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State Plans Overhaul of Guidelines for Attorneys Who Represent Kids in Foster Care Cases

by Paul Faruq Kiefer

(This article originally appeared on PubliCola and has been reprinted under an agreement.)


In July, a new state law took effect that will guarantee legal representation for children facing dependency hearings, in which a judge considers whether they should remain with their family or go to foster care. For more than a decade, Washington lagged behind much of the rest of the country in expanding children’s access to attorneys during foster care cases, so when the State Legislature passed the law in April, most children’s rights advocates across Washington lauded the change as a step in the right direction.

Access to an attorney can make a significant difference in the outcome of foster care cases. A study conducted between 2017 and 2019 by Washington’s Office of Civil Legal Aid (OCLA), which provides financial support to low-income Washington residents in civil cases, found that children represented by attorneys in dependency cases are much more likely to reunite with their families. The study found that having a lawyer made an especially notable difference for older children and Kids of Color, who are also the least likely to be adopted if left in foster care.

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