Sunday, May 20, 2007

Children's attorneys: You get what you pay for!

Accused state social workers still on the job
State gets a 'D' in representing neglected kids
Lexington Herald-Leader, May 2, 2007, pg. B3.

A recently released report on legal representation for foster children gave Kentucky a "D" for the representation it provides to abused and neglected children, according to officials from Kentucky Youth Advocates.

First Star, a national child advocacy organization based in Washington, issued the report, giving grades to states based on mandates for representation, training requirements, children's involvement in proceedings and attorney immunity from malpractice.

Kentucky was one of six states to receive a "D" grade based on a 100-point index; 15 states received failing grades. Kentucky received a score of 60 out of 100. Neighboring states received a range of grades. Illinois, Indiana, and Missouri were given failing grades, Ohio received a C, Tennessee got a B, and West Virginia got an A.

The group made recommendations to the Kentucky legislature that included developing training for attorneys, requiring that children keep the same attorney if possible, and giving children the right to legal representation during the appeals process.

The First Star report also recommended that children's attorneys have caseload and compensation levels that allow for "effective assistance of counsel."

"While Kentucky guarantees attorneys for children in its child welfare system, the issue of quality representation is simply not adequately addressed," said Dr. Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates. "At a broad level, we can do more to support the quality issue through proactive legislation in 2008 and a focused commitment from the legal profession. On a pragmatic basis, issues like increasing fees for court-appointed attorneys are imperative if we really want to tackle the quality issue."

Louisville-based Kentucky Youth Advocates is one of two groups that issued a report on concerns with adoption practices, particularly in Hardin County, in January 2006.