Preamble: NACC recognizes a general responsibility of its members beyond the duties of individual representation. Children lack resources, organization, and access to the levers of power. As individuals and as a group, our concerns properly extend to the prevention of abuse, neglect, and exploitation and to the sustenance of “well children.” Accordingly, NACC seeks to advance both a culture and public policies that further children’s health and safety, their opportunities, and their nurturance in loving families.
1. Right to Effective Assistance of Counsel:
- Children and parents should have a right to legal counsel in all court proceedings affecting their rights.
- Children and parents should be appointed an attorney at the onset of any and all court proceedings which affect their rights and their attorney should continue to represent them at all stages of the court proceeding.
- Children and parents should be appointed well-trained, well-resourced, independent and competent legal counsel in all court proceedings, including appeals, affecting their rights, in any judicial forum that is making decisions about their lives
- A court shall not accept waiver of counsel by a child unless the child has been advised by independent counsel as to the waiver and if the waiver is accepted the court shall appoint advisory counsel to participate at all proceedings and be available to the child.
- Children’s and parent’s attorneys should have reasonable caseloads.
- Children's and parent’s attorneys should receive training on the legal rights of children and parents, child development, and other matters necessary to effectively represent children and parents, both prior to initial appointment and on a continuing and regular basis.
- Children’s and parent’s attorneys should have access to the resources necessary to provide effective representation, including but not limited to: expert witnesses, social workers, investigators and other professionals.
2. Access to Justice
- Courts and attorneys in juvenile and other child-serving courts should be held to the highest standard of compliance with statutory and constitutional mandates in all decision-making.
- Children and parents should have the right to reasonable notice of every court hearing, as well as to be present and to be heard at all proceedings in which their rights are at stake or decisions about their lives are being made.
- Children and parents should have access to a family-friendly judicial system which treats them with dignity and respect.
- Juvenile courts and other child-serving courts should have reasonable dockets such that every family’s case is given adequate time and attention.
- Judges should receive regular, on-going training on the legal rights of parents and children, child development, and other matters necessary for effective decision-making.
- Child-serving court personnel should receive on-going training regarding issues related to children’s law including but not limited to child development, child trauma, and an overview of the court process.
3. Children's Well-Being
- NACC supports efforts aimed at preserving families and reducing the need for children to be removed from their homes and communities.
- Children and parents should be holistically represented by legal advocates who address familial, community and societal issues that contribute to children’s well-being.
- Funding schemes should prioritize child welfare/juvenile justice systems which include prevention, family preservation, reunification, medical and mental health care, educational stability, including placement in the school setting that best meets their needs, supportive services, child well-being and quality interventions.
- Children who are removed from their homes should live in a family setting with loving, nurturing and supportive caregivers.
- When children are placed outside of their home, they should be placed as close to their home as possible.
- In any case where a child has been removed from the home by state action and has not been provided permanency, the state should be legally required to provide the child with services and support necessary for the child to transition to a self-sustaining and productive adulthood.
- All children should be allowed to safely maintain their attachments to important adults in their lives and to participate in activities that are meaningful to them.
- The child welfare and juvenile justice systems should maximize access to and effectiveness of services to address the needs of children who are dually involved.
- All children and parents regardless of their race, culture, ethnicity, religion or religious beliefs, disability or handicap, sex, gender expression, or sexual identity should be treated with dignity and respect during all phases of their involvement with the child welfare, juvenile justice and other child-serving court systems.
- Recognizing that GLBTQI (gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender, queer, inter-sex) children are disproportionately over-represented in the foster care system, NACC supports efforts to improve the outcomes and lives of GLBTQI children in the child welfare/juvenile justice systems through education, training, policy and practice.
- Racial/Ethnic disproportionality and disparate outcomes in the child welfare, juvenile justice and other child-serving court systems should be eliminated.
4. Child Welfare
- Children should be recognized as parties in abuse and neglect proceedings and should have all of the rights of a party in such proceedings.
- The rights of foster children should be protected as a matter of law. These rights include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Reunification as a primary goal and access to services supporting reunification unless it has been established by court order that reunification is not in the child’s best interes
- Placement in the least restrictive, most family-like setting that is safe and that meets the child’s needs
- Placement with siblings unless it is established that such placement would cause harm to one or more of the siblings
- Frequent visitation and other means of communication for siblings who are not placed together
- Regular, meaningful and developmentally appropriate contact with their parents , including parent involvement in day to day activities such as school conferences and events, doctor’s appointments, sports, etc. and other communication with their parents unless it is established that such contact and communication would cause harm to the child
- To maintain meaningful contact with appropriate family members and other support persons outside of the foster care system
- Freedom from discrimination, harassment, neglect or any type of abuse
- Access to medical, dental, vision, mental health and behavioral health care
- Freedom from unnecessary and/or excessive medication
- Educational stability, including remaining in their home school if appropriate, and access to special education services when necessary
- Ability to participate in extra-curricular activities of their choice
- Ability to participate in religious services and activities of their choice
- Participation in programs designed to assist in their transition to adulthood
- To maintain their personal property
- Access to health education and reproductive health services
5. Juvenile Justice
Children have unique needs and differing abilities depending on their age, cognitive and developmental level; services provided to them, including the court process, must properly consider these and related factors.
- Children should not be made to stand trial unless they possess present competence to do so and therefore should be entitled to a hearing on their competence with all of the due process protections afforded to adult defendants.
- Children should have legal counsel prior to and during a competence evaluation by a trained and qualified evaluator and should have protection from future use of self-incriminating statements made during the evaluation process that is in line with adults in competency evaluations.
- In assessing whether a child meets the standard for competence to stand trial, developmental immaturity should be included as a psychological predicate, in addition to intellectual disability and mental illness, in juvenile court proceedings.
- Children should never be placed in solitary confinement.
- Children should not be incarcerated or confined in locked facilities except as a last resort, and only when such confinement is necessary to address a demonstrable safety issue.
- When children are incarcerated, they should be housed humanely, separate from adults, and in conditions that are supportive and provide the least restrictive environment necessary to preserve the safety of the child and the community.
- The rights of children who are incarcerated or otherwise removed from their homes, including but not limited to their rights to visitation and other contact with family members, including minors and other supportive individuals, to personal safety, to an appropriate education, to adequate medical care, and to supportive services should be protected as a matter of law.
- Children should not be shackled, except in circumstances where it is demonstrable that a failure to shackle the child would present an immediate, substantial risk of harm to another individual.
- Children who have been found to have committed status offenses should not be securely confined and should receive supportive services.
- Dispositions for children who have been adjudicated for a delinquent act should take into account neurological research, and any other relevant research regarding development, trauma, etc., in assessing the culpability and potential rehabilitation of each child.