Duties of Minor's Counsel
Attorneys charged with the duty of representing foster children in the juvenile court system have a tremendous responsibility. It is important for all child advocates to be familiar with Welfare and Institutions Code Section 317(e), which lays out the roles and responsibilities of attorneys charged with the representation of a child in foster care:
(e) (1) Counsel shall be charged in general with the representation of the child's interests. To that end, counsel shall make or cause to have made any further investigations that he or she deems in good faith to be reasonably necessary to ascertain the facts, including the interviewing of witnesses, and shall examine and cross-examine witnesses in both the adjudicatory and dispositional hearings. Counsel may also introduce and examine his or her own witnesses, make recommendations to the court concerning the child's welfare, and participate further in the proceedings to the degree necessary to adequately represent the child. When counsel is appointed to represent a nonminor dependent, counsel is charged with representing the wishes of the nonminor dependent except when advocating for those wishes conflicts with the protection or safety of the nonminor dependent. If the court finds that a nonminor dependent is not competent to direct counsel, the court shall appoint a guardian ad litem for the nonminor dependent.
(2) If the child is four years of age or older, counsel shall interview the child to determine the child's wishes and assess the child's well-being, and shall advise the court of the child's wishes. Counsel shall not advocate for the return of the child if, to the best of his or her knowledge, return of the child conflicts with the protection and safety of the child.
(3) Counsel shall investigate the interests of the child beyond the scope of the juvenile proceeding, and report to the court other interests of the child that may need to be protected by the institution of other administrative or judicial proceedings. Counsel representing a child in a dependency proceeding is not required to assume the responsibilities of a social worker, and is not expected to provide nonlegal services to the child.
Attorneys representing children in juvenile court are also held to “minimum standards of representation” under California Rules of Court Section 5.660. Section 5.660 requires a process for the review and resolution of complaints or questions regarding the performance of an appointed attorney.
Standards of representation
Attorneys or their agents are expected to meet regularly with clients, including clients who are children, regardless of the age of the child or the child's ability to communicate verbally, to contact social workers and other professionals associated with the client's case, to work with other counsel and the court to resolve disputed aspects of a case without contested hearing, and to adhere to the mandated timelines. The attorney for the child must have sufficient contact with the child to establish and maintain an adequate and professional attorney-client relationship. The attorney for the child is not required to assume the responsibilities of a social worker and is not expected to perform services for the child that are unrelated to the child's legal representation.
NOTE: Some counties also have “Local Rules of Court” requiring more specified duties of minor’s counsel beyond the requirements or standards of representation required by Welfare and Institutions Code § 317(e), and California Rule of Court § 5.660. See our Local County Rule web page (coming soon!) for more information.
Reporting a Problem with Your Attorney
If you are a foster youth, both California law and California Rules of Court require that anyone who has a court-appointed attorney must be allowed to report a problem or lodge a complaint about their attorney to the presiding judge of the juvenile court.
The court must establish a process for the review and resolution of complaints or questions by a party regarding the performance of an appointed attorney. Each party must be informed of the procedure for lodging the complaint. If it is determined that an appointed attorney has acted improperly or contrary to the rules or policies of the court, the court must take appropriate action.
If you would like to contact the presiding judge of your juvenile court and report a problem that you are having with your lawyer, download and fill out the “Request for Assistance with Court Appointed Attorney” form and send it to the juvenile court presiding judge in your county. You may also download instructions for completing the form and a directory of mailing addresses for all juvenile court presiding judges in California.
In some California counties, a complaint concerning the performance of an attorney appointed to represent a minor may be lodged on the child’s behalf by a caretaker, relative, or a foster parent. See our Local Rules of Court web page (coming soon!) to find the rules in your county regarding complaint procedures.
If you are a relative caretaker or foster parent in one of the counties which allow “non-parties” to lodge a complaint and you would like to contact the presiding judge of your juvenile court to report a problem with the attorney representing the child in your care, download and fill out the Request for Assistance with Court Appointed Attorney form and send it to the juvenile court presiding judge in your county. You may also download instructions for completing the form and a directory of mailing addresses for all juvenile court presiding judges in California.