Working to transform the child welfare system.


SHB 1251: Concerning the appointment of counsel for youth in dependency court proceedings

HB 1251 would amend current statute to state that it is a right of a dependent child to be represented by counsel or have counsel appointed to them by the court.  The bill then requires the court to appoint an attorney to a dependent child prior to the shelter care hearing.  Additionally, HB 1251 would change language to include the child and child’s counsel in the court process. 

Substitute Bill Compared to Original Bill:

Provisions requiring the appointment of counsel for all children in dependencies upon the effective date are stricken and replaced with the phased-in appointment of counsel for children over two years old. Language in current law pertaining to discretionary appointment of counsel and notification requirements regarding the right to request appointment of an attorney is retained rather than stricken. Language regarding appointment of counsel to children six months after entry of an order terminating parental rights is also retained rather than stricken. 

The Office of Civil Legal Aid (OCLA) is responsible for implementation. In addition, the OCLA must contract with an independent research organization to evaluate:  the compensation rate for children’s attorneys using local and national data, the feasibility of sibling group representation, and the hours necessary for attorneys to represent children and youth in compliance with state standards; and the impact of legal representation on case timelines and permanency outcomes for children and youth represented by attorneys. The evaluation must include a review of data disaggregated by race, ethnicity, and age, and qualitative interviews with children, youth, and parents regarding their experiences in the dependency process. A report to the Legislature and the Governor is due by December 1, 2021.

The provision affording indigent parents and guardians the right to have counsel appointed by the court is amended to also include indigent legal custodians.