In re Dependency of K.P.T.

Although the Supreme Court has long recognized that children require counsel to effectively navigate complex legal proceedings, some states still fail to extend that protection to children in dependency proceedings. Washington State is a particularly egregious example; despite being the subject of the proceedings, in Washington the child is the only party to a dependency proceeding without the right to have counsel appointed to represent him or her. As a result, the child has no person to turn to for legal advice or for guidance in understanding and navigating the complex dependency process.

To address this issue, Juvenile Law Center, in conjunction with Lawyers for Children, Legal Counsel for Youth and Children, National Association of Counsel for Children, Nova Southeastern University Law Center Children and Families Clinic, and Professor Michael Dale, filed an amicus curiae brief in the Court of Appeals of the State of Washington on behalf of a child who had been denied counsel in a dependency proceeding. In the brief, amici argued that, given the significance of the child’s liberty interests at stake, due process requires appointment of counsel for children in dependency proceedings.

Amici explained that the assistance of a Guardian ad litem cannot substitute for legal representation by counsel, as the unique attorney-client relationship facilitates the child’s participation and voice in the proceedings, thus ensuring that each party’s counseled wishes are heard and that the court has a full record upon which to make a fair and accurate decision. Independent legal representation for the child – whose future safety and well-being is the very subject of the proceeding – is therefore a necessary component of due process.

Court Documents