Legal Representation

Moving Children to Timely Permanency

In 2009, through the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s Children’s Roundtable structure, leaders in the child welfare and child dependency system began discussing the need for well-trained legal representation of children and parents. At the same time, there was a growing awareness that high quality representation correlated with those represented having a better understanding of court proceedings.  This enhanced understanding combined with enhanced quality legal representation was seen as key to increasing child safety, well-being and permanency.

State Roundtable Convenes Legal Representation Workgroup

In the spring of 2009, the State Roundtable charged the Office of Children and Families in the Courts to develop a set of recommendations regarding pre-service and ongoing training for Guardians ad Litem (GALs) and Parent Attorneys. To accomplish this charge, the Legal Representation Workgroup was convened.  The Workgroup is a collaborative effort amongst individuals representing the judicial, legal and child welfare systems on a national, state and county level.   In its first year, the Workgroup reviewed national models regarding training for legal representatives in child dependency, surveyed the state of Pennsylvania regarding issues specific to Guardians ad Litem and Parent Attorneys, and developed a plan and objectives for both pre-service and core training. Please click here for a listing of current Workgroup members.

To view the Legal Representation Workgroup State Roundtable Reportsclick here.


Accomplishments of the Legal Representation Workgroup

In May 2016, the Legal Representation Workgroup received approval of their newly created video, “A Parent’s Guide to Understanding the Pennsylvania Dependency System.”  In recognizing that the dependency system can be very complicated and confusing for parents, the Workgroup worked diligently throughout 2015-2016 creating the video to help parents better understand the court process, responsibility for their child’s permanency and how to best work with their attorney and child welfare agency.  With input and participation from parents, children and older youth, the video includes “real-life” situations, shared by families who have experienced the dependency system. Click the picture to the right to view the video.

In the years following, the Workgroup trained over 1,200 attorneys statewide through Core I and Core II educational sessions, which consisted of best practice proceedings, family engagement practices, grief and loss, trauma, client communication and safety.  In addition, the Workgroup helped Pennsylvania comply with specific elements of the federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA). In order to meet CAPTA requirements for county reimbursement of Guardians ad Litem, the Workgroup created a Pre-Service DVD consisting of many elements contained within Core I training, along with expectations and advice from Supreme Court, Superior Court and Trial Court Judges. Click the picture to the right to view the video.

In addition, the Workgroup created a children’s court activity book to provide children with a better understanding of what would happen during court proceedings. Click the picture to the right to view the Activity Book. to view this book as an online activity for your child, click here.

In 2015, the State Roundtable approved the legal booklet titled “Standards of Practice for Parent Attorneys, Guardians ad Litem and Legal Counsel practicing in Pennsylvania’s Child Dependency System.”  This Standards of Practice booklet contains the finalized Standards of Practice, along with the finalized caseload time charts and caseload calculation analysis. Click the picture to the right to view a copy of the Standards of Practice.