Know Your Rights Guide: Chapter 18 - Lawyers, Court and Case Planning

Jennifer Pokempner,

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To have a say in what happens in your case and your future, it is important that you be part of the meetings and discussions where important decisions are made.  Court and case planning meetings are two of the most important places where big decisions are made.  One of your champions and advocates is your lawyer.  This chapter gives you information about your right to participate in your case planning meetings and court.  It also gives you information about your lawyer, his or her role, and tips for how to work with your lawyer to help achieve your goals. 

I. Your Lawyer

Do I have a lawyer? 

What is my lawyer’s role? 

What should my lawyer be doing to represent me? 

  • Here are some of the things that the law requires that your lawyer do when they are appointed to represent you in dependency court.  Whether they are a GAL or counsel, your lawyer should:
    • Meet with you as soon as possible after they are appointed and then regularly as long as they are on the case.
    • Have access to your records just for the purpose of understanding your needs and to make sure you are getting what you need. 
    • Participate in all of your court hearings and meetings. 
    • Do any investigation, talk to witnesses and other people in your life to be able to represent you well in court. 
    • Be told if there are plans to move your placement and have the opportunity to respond.
    • Make recommendations to the court about whether you are safe, the services you need, what should happen in your case and your goals.  
    • Explain the court proceedings to you in a way that you can understand. 
    • Tell the court about what you want to happen in the case and present any evidence that supports what you want.5  

What should I tell my lawyer? 

  • You should tell your lawyer how you are doing in your placement and what kind of placement you want for the future—if you want to go home, be placed with a relative, or be adopted. 
  • You should tell your lawyer how things are going for you, if things are going well in school, if you are in need of medical care or counseling, if you are visiting with you sibling and parents, and anything else that is important to you. Almost everything you tell your lawyer is confidential. Your lawyer will tell you when they cannot keep things confidential and you should ask if you are not sure.  
  • You should tell your lawyer if you feel safe and have any concerns about your safety. 
  • Some lawyers are required to tell the children and youth agency if you report to them that you have been neglected or abused.6 

What is the best way to communicate with my lawyer? 

  • Meeting with your lawyer in person is good so you can get to know each other, but texting, talking on the phone, emailing and even writing letters are good too. 
  • It is really important to let your lawyer know how you like to communicate and the best times to talk, meet or text with you.
    • Let your lawyer know if:
      • You have a working telephone or device to communicate on.
      • Talking on the phone or meeting between 9 and 5 on weekdays does not work for you.
      • You like texting rather than phone calls.
      • There are times that are bad for you to talk or meet.
      • Other options like using social media are ways to contact you.  
  • Your lawyer wants to work with you and their job is to assist and represent you.  They appreciate when you let them know the best ways to do this.  

 How do I find out who my lawyer is? 

What do I do if I think my lawyer isn’t doing their job?

  • Your lawyer is appointed to help you and work for you. If you do not think your lawyer is doing their job, don’t be afraid to let someone know. 
  • If you do not think your lawyer is doing their job, you should try to talk to them about your concerns. 
  • Make sure you leave messages and write letters to your lawyer to give them a chance to respond. 
  • If you still feel your lawyer is not doing their job, you should then contact their supervisor or boss. 
  • You can also tell the judge when you go to court. You should let them know what you think your lawyer is doing wrong or how they are not meeting your needs, such as if your lawyer is not returning your calls or talking to you, or not telling the judge what you want. 
  • You can also file a complaint about your lawyer with the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court.  You can get to the form and learn about the process here

II. Court and Hearings

What happens in court when my case is reviewed? 

Should I go to court for my permanency review hearings? 

  • YES. 
  • Pennsylvania court rules require that you be at your court hearings unless the judge excuses you.10  This is because the hearings are about your life and important decisions are being made about your future.  You should have a say and understand what is going on. 
  • You should always try to attend! If you are not there, you will not be able to give input on important decisions or correct mistakes. 
  • It is important for you to go. Court only happens once every three to six months. Court is still worth attending even though it can be boring, and you may have to wait for your case to be heard.  If you are always there you can make sure you get what you need and that decisions about you are made with your involvement!   

I want to go to court, but I need help to get there and want help to prepare. What should I do? 

  • Your caseworker should help you arrange for transportation to court.  You should contact your lawyer and let them know if you are not getting help with transportation.  
  • If you want to make sure you are present for all hearings, contact your lawyer before the hearing. Your lawyer will be able to ask the court to order your placement to transport you to the hearing. 
  • You should ask your lawyer and caseworker to help you prepare for court.  Preparation could include explaining the process to you and helping you prepare to say something or write something to the judge.
  • If it would make you feel more comfortable to have someone you trust or who is a support to you attend court, ask your caseworker and lawyer.  This is something that can be arranged.  

What should the judge be asking me about when I go to court?

Are there ways that I can share my views in court other than speaking at the hearing? 

  • There is a lot your lawyer, caseworker and judge can do to make it easier for you to speak in court and make you feel comfortable in general.
    • You could speak first or have a specific time that you know you can share your views. 
    • You can have your lawyer ask you specific questions that you are prepared to answer.  
    • You can have a support person in the room. 
  • If you would rather not speak in the court room or are not ready to, here are some ideas for how you can get your views heard:
    • Ask your lawyer to speak for you.  
    • Write a letter to the judge. 
    • Ask to speak to the judge in his or her chambers (office). 
    • Always have notes prepared of what you want to cover in court for each hearing.  

**When you speak to the judge in his or her chambers or write a letter, that information may be shared with the other people involved in your case so make sure you understand who will know about the information you share.  

What happens if I do not like the decisions that the judge makes in court? 

  • When a judge makes a decision in your case that you do not like or agree with, you can ask your attorney to appeal it.  Appealing a decision means that you are saying that you disagree with it and are asking the judge or a court above your judge to change the decision.  
  • One of the duties of your lawyer is to provide you information about the opportunity to appeal and give you advice on whether you can appeal a decision and whether it is a good idea to do so.  
  • Talk to your lawyer when you do not agree with a decision and asked him or her to talk with you about taking an appeal.  
  • One of the reasons it is important to attend your court hearings is so you can have input and also so that changes can happen in your case.  There is an opportunity for changes to be made in your case every time you go to court.  If you are not there, these changes may not happen.  

As I get older, what are some of the most important issues I should raise when I go to court? 

  • The beauty of going to court is that you can highlight any issue that is most important to you based on your needs and goals.  
  • Here are a few issues that seem especially important to youth as they get older and are worth raising in court and sharing your views on:
    • Are you being notified of and provided support to attend/participate in your transition/discharge planning meetings?  
    • Do the goals in your transition to adulthood plan fit your needs and strengths, or do you need help picking new ones? 
    • Are you getting the transition to adulthood services that are helping you achieve your goals or do you need more or different services? 
    • Are you still getting help with permanency and connecting with your family and brothers and sisters? 
    • Are you getting help with being eligible for extended foster care if you want to stay in care? 
    • Are you getting help developing a good transition/discharge plan that you feel meets your needs, is specific and realistic, especially related to your housing plan?  
    • Do you feel your concerns, and what you want included in your transition/discharge plan are being included?  
    • Are there things that you are worried about as you plan for the transition from foster care that you want help with?

Here are a few tools that can help you prepare for court: 
    Youth Empowerment in Court Card
    Youth-Developed Discharge Hearing Form

What is a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA)?  

  • A CASA is someone who can be an advocate for you in your case and works to make sure your needs are met.  
  • A court can appoint a CASA to a case, but not everyone has a CASA.14  
  • If you have a CASA, they will meet with you, gather information about you, and will make recommendations to the court about what you need.  
  • CASAs can be very helpful in your case and are great advocates and champions for youth.  
  • A CASA has a different role than your lawyer, but is another great support to you and an advocate for you in court and case planning meetings.  

III. Case Planning

What are case plans? 

What is a case planning meeting and why should I attend? 

Do I have a right to participate in my case planning meetings? 

Can I invite support people or people who are important to me to a case planning meeting? 

Should I get a list of my rights as part of the case planning process? 

What if I do not agree with what is put in my case plan for a goal or service?

  • It is important for you to go to your case planning meeting so that you can have a say in what is in the plan.  The plan is where you set goals and plans for services to achieve the goals.   If you want a service—like help preparing and getting a job or transportation to visit with a brother or sister—you want to make sure it is in your case plan to be sure that it will happen.  
  • You can file a grievance if you do not agree with something in your case plan. 
  • You can raise the issue with your judge in court. 
  • You can appeal what you do not agree with in the case plan.  Appeal means you do not agree and want something changed.  You appeal what is in your case plan by taking an appeal though the Office of Hearings and Appeals of the Department of Human Services.24  You will need help to file an appeal with the Office of Hearings and Appeals.  Please ask your lawyer for help to do this. 

IV. Top 5 Reasons To Go To Your Permanency Review Hearings

1. Your voice matters.
2. You have a right to be there and speak.
3. The hearing is about you, so you want to make sure everyone gets
all information correct.
4. It is a place where you are able to tell people about what is going
well in your life or what is going wrong and what you want to
5. The judge has the final word on what happens in your case. The
judge can make sure things happen and that problems are fixed.


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