Improving The Quality Of Legal Representation in CPS Cases
Legal Representation Study (LRS) Project
Better representation means better outcomes
The Children's Commission published a study this January of legal representation in CPS cases that showed inconsistencies statewide in applying existing standards for when and how long counsel is appointed and their level of qualification andcompensation. The study highlighted the state's need for better standards and training as well as better compensation for appointed attorneys. The Children's Commission this summer formed an LRS Committee to address the study's recommendations.
The LRS study was designed to assess the timing, methods, and duration of attorney appointments in CPS cases. Also collected was information on training requirements, the availability of legal training, compensation, and judicial evaluation of attorney performance in the various jurisdictions. Study participants were asked to suggest ways to improve legal representation.
One troubling study finding was how rarely parents' attorneys are appointed early enough in the case to effectively represent their clients, according to many respondents. Fewer than 21 percent of the counties surveyed consistently appoint parents' attorneys before the 14-day hearing. Judge Dean Rucker, who chairs the LRS committee, suspects this is an education issue. "Most parents don't know that they have a right to request counsel if they're indigent," Judge Rucker said. "And many courts are taking too long to appoint them."
Before 2005, the Texas Family Code required courts to appoint counsel to indigent parents only in termination cases. But since 2005, the statute has required appointment at the beginning of the suiteven for cases of temporary managing conservatorship. "Since the provision does not carry a deadline like the appointment of counsel for children, Judge Rucker said, "It's possible some judges interpret the amended statute to be permissive as to when the appointment must be made."
The LRS Committee is organized into three subcommittees – Practice, Policy/Legislation, and Outreach – that will tackle the following five topic groups:
- Appointment Method
- Standards, Quality Assurance, Accountability
- DFPS Representation
In addition to developing practice standards and accountability tools, the LRS committee will research resources to help counties pay for indigent representation. "Improved representation will likely lead to a decrease in time spent in care," Judge Rucker said.
This attorney manual was a collaboration between the National Association of Counsel for Children and the Children's Commission.
This is the attorney guide from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.
American Bar Association
This online course satisfies the new 3-hour CLE requirement for Attorney Ad Litem Certification and is free to attorneys who are seeking appointments to represent parents..