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Master's Professional Reports Abstract



Roles of Children's Attorneys and Court Appointed Special Advocates in Child Abuse and Neglect Proceedings

The court systems and child protection agencies that handle cases of child abuse and neglect increasingly are overburdened and underfunded. For this reason, it is crucial that children who are the subject of abuse and neglect proceedings have an independent advocate to ensure that their legal rights are enforced and that their individualized needs are assessed and met. This report identifies six roles a child's advocate must play in order to effectively advocate for a child's interests: (1) client counselor, (2) fact-finder/investigator, (3) evaluator of the child's interests, (4) legal representative, (5) negotiator/mediator, (6) and case monitor. In many jurisdictions, children may be appointed two advocates - a lay volunteer and an attorney. An analysis of the standards and guidelines governing lay volunteers and the separate standards and guidelines governing children's attorneys reveals that lay volunteers and attorneys are expected to play the six roles identified. Interviews conducted in Travis County with various members of the child protection system also indicate a high degree of overlap between the roles of attorneys and lay volunteers in actual practice. Despite this redundancy, respondents believe that providing an attorney and a CASA to represent the same child is an effective and efficient model of advocacy because attorneys and CASAs bring different skills and different perspectives to their roles. Further, repondents indicated that collaboration between attorneys, lay volunteers, and caseworkers deserves attention in order to facilitate the exchange of information that may lead to faster resolution of cases and enhanced well-being of child clients.

-- Author's foreword.