September 01, 2015

Child Welfare

The ABA submitted a letter Aug. 27 to the Oklahoma House Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee on Human Services praising the panel’s effort to improve outcomes for children and their families through examination of agency representation. In the letter, ABA Governmental Affairs Director Thomas M. Susman offered the association’s views on representation in child welfare cases for an interim study being conducted by the subcommittee. He summarized the ABA’s 2004 Standards of Practice for Lawyers Representing Child Welfare Agencies, which includes two models of agency representation: the agency representation model and the prosecutorial model. Under the agency representation model, the agency’s attorney represents the agency as a legal entity. An elected or appointed attorney, often a district or county attorney, represents the agency under the prosecutorial model. Each model has its strengths, Susman explained, and at the time the standards were written the expert drafting committee recommended adoption of the agency representation model. Since 2004, the discussion in the child welfare community “has become more nuanced and more focused on concrete outcomes for children and their families,” he said, and there is a better appreciation today that children have more success in life when they are raised by their parents, or if separation is necessary then by relatives. Because the child welfare agency should be expert on these important issues and their expertise must be relied upon when making decisions for children and families, he said, the ABA continues to prefer the agency representation model over the prosecutorial model. “Certainly, some district attorneys are trained on these issues and can provide all of the information that judges need to made decisions, but it is essential that the voice of the agency is heard during that decision-making process,” Susman said. “Under either model, judges should receive all the information they need, but the likelihood that this will occur is generally greater under the agency representation model,” he concluded.

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