Among other provisions, HB1219 requires mandatory appointment of counsel for children and establishes the Statewide Children's Legal Representation Program within the OCLA.
Subject to the availability of funds appropriated for this purpose, counsel for children in dependency proceedings are to be appointed on a phased-in county- by- county basis over a six year period, to reach full statewide implementation by January 1, 2027. Counties that have either no current practice of appointment of attorneys in dependency cases or that have a significant prevalence of racial disproportionality or disparities in the number of dependent children compared to the population, or both, must be prioritized.
The Supreme Court's Commission on Children in Foster Care is requested to review and update the standards of practice, caseload limits, and training guidelines developed and adopted by the Statewide Children's Representation Work Group from 2010. The updated standards must be developed by December 21, 2021.
Furthermore, the appointment of attorneys must be made at the same time that counsel is appointed for the child's parent, guardian, or legal custodian, or at the shelter care hearing in the event that no counsel is appointed for the parent, guardian, or legal custodian. Attorneys must provide legal services in accordance with the standards of practice, training, and caseload limits adopted by the Children's Representation Work Group.
The Statewide Children's Legal Representation Program (Program) shall be established within the OCLA.
Other provisions include but are not limited to:
- The existing provision affording indigent parents and guardians the right to have counsel appointed by the court is amended to also include indigent legal custodians.
- The Washington State Center for Court Research (Center) is required to convene stakeholders to identify relevant outcome measures and data collection methods to effectively assess the number of youth subject to the phase-in; and the short and long-term impact of standards-based legal representation on case outcomes.
The bill as amended does the following:
The substitute bill narrows the mandatory appointment of counsel to children age 8 and up.
Mandatory appointment for new dependency petitions occurs at or before the commencement of the shelter care hearing; for any pending or open dependency case where the child is unrepresented, mandatory appointment occurs at or before the next hearing.
For children age 0-7 years, mandatory appointment occurs upon the filing of a termination petition, as opposed to 6 months following the filing of a termination petition.
The start date of the phase-in schedule is delayed until July 1, 2022.
Modifications are made to provisions related to the mandatory appointment of counsel for youth in the extended foster care program to provide that subject to amounts appropriated counsel is to be provided at state expense.
The Program is required to prioritize continuity of counsel for children who are already represented by counsel at county expense when the program becomes effective in that county.
Finally, a request is made to the Children's Representation Workgroup to review available research and best practices regarding representation of the legal interests of children under the age of 8 and requires the Children's Representation Workgroup to report recommendations to the Legislature on the appropriate model of representation, including timing of appointment, training and oversight needs, and other considerations by December 31, 2021.
A null and void clause was added prior to passage out of House Appropriations.
A reference to the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act (Title 42 U.S.C., Chapter 119, Subchapter I) is added to the definition of "experiencing homelessness" in the child welfare statutes.