|NACC Policy Agenda|
Preface: The NACC believes that all children must be valued as human beings, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, age, social class, physical or mental disability, gender, or sexual orientation, and must be vested with certain fundamental rights, including a right to physical and emotional health and safety. In order to achieve the physical and emotional well being of children, we must promote legal rights and remedies for children. This includes empowering children by ensuring that courts hear and consider the views of children in proceedings that affect children’s lives.
Attorneys for Children
1. Children’s attorneys play a critical role in empowering children and ensuring that children’s views are heard in legal proceedings. Additionally, the presence of children’s attorneys is critical to ensuring the timeliness of proceedings.
2. The NACC believes that attorneys representing children and families should have a combination of knowledge, training, experience, and ability which allows them to effectively discharge their duties to their clients. The NACC supports federal, state and local programs to enhance the competence of these attorneys.
Child Welfare Policy
1.The NACC believes that, in order for justice to be done in child abuse and neglect related court proceedings, all parties should be represented by counsel. The children who are the subjects of these proceedings are usually the most profoundly affected by the decisions made in these proceedings, and these children are also usually the least able to voice their views effectively on their own. However, in many jurisdictions, the courts do not appoint independent attorneys for all children in abuse and neglect related proceedings. NACC insists that federal, state and local law should mandate that independent attorneys be appointed to represent the interests of children in all such proceedings. In addition, the NACC believes that CASA volunteers can serve an important role in ensuring that children and their families receive appropriate services and assistance by investigating and reporting to the court and by exchanging views and coordinating efforts with the children’s attorneys. Children’s attorneys, however, remain uniquely qualified to provide a legal voice for children in these legal proceedings through presentation of oral and written submissions to the court. CASA volunteers can therefore supplement but not supplant the efforts of children’s attorneys.
2. The NACC believes that child welfare systems must be funded adequately and must offer a combination of preventive and reunification services to children and families, as well as the placements and services needed by children in custody of the State. In addition, child welfare systems must provide adequate case management and permanency planning services to link children and families with appropriate services, and to provide appropriate placements for children.
3. The NACC believes that the court system should be the vehicle for prompt and just determinations in child abuse and neglect related proceedings – proceedings which should minimize the further trauma to child victims. The NACC favors federal, state and local programs to help bring court systems closer to these ideals.
Juvenile Justice Policy
1. The NACC believes that juveniles accused of offenses should be represented by competent counsel in all court proceedings, including post-disposition proceedings.
2. The NACC believes that juvenile justice systems must be funded adequately and must incorporate a full range of effective programs, services, and placements ranging from prevention programs to community-based services to secure placements. Such a continuum of programs, services, and placements, often referred to as "graduated sanctions systems," should be available in every state and the NACC supports federal, state and local programs to help bring systems closer to that ideal. The NACC believes that the death penalty is never an appropriate sanction for crimes committed while a juvenile.
3. The NACC believes that the juvenile courts, with their focus on individualized justice, should be the vehicles for prompt and just determinations in juvenile justice proceedings. The NACC favors federal, state and local programs to assist juvenile courts in accomplishing that task. The NACC opposes federal, state and local policies which remove juvenile courts’ discretion as to when children are tried as adults, and/or which result in juveniles being placed with adult offenders. Such policies only reduce public safety (by increasing juvenile recidivism) and place children at risk of sexual and physical assault and even murder by adults.
4. The NACC believes that racial disparity is a significant problem at every stage of the juvenile justice system (as it is in the criminal justice system as a whole). The NACC supports federal, state and local policies which address that problem.
5. The NACC believes that status offenders (those whose acts would not be crimes if committed by adults, e.g., truancy or running away) should not be confined in secure facilities; rather they should be provided prompt and appropriate interventions to avoid future delinquency. The NACC supports federal, state and local policies which assist in providing such prompt and appropriate interventions.
6. The NACC supports policies which limit juvenile access to guns.
Child Custody Policy
1. The NACC believes that, while legal representation is not required for every child who is the subject of a child custody determination, the judge should appoint an attorney to represent the child in certain cases: when there are certain substantive allegations which make child representation necessary -- i.e., when there is an allegation of child neglect or abuse (physical, sexual or emotional) by a parent or household member, when there is a culture of violence between the parents, when there is an allegation of substance abuse by a parent, when there are allegations of non-paternity, or when there is an allegation of or fear about child snatching -- as well as when there are certain procedural situations which make child representation necessary -- i.e., when a child will be a witness or when the case develops an extremely adversarial nature (especially one that is attorney-driven). In addition, the judge should consider appointing an attorney to represent the child in certain cases: when there is an allegation of mental illness on the part of a parent, when a custodial parent is relocating geographically, when child representation can reduce undue harm to the child from the litigation itself, when the child has exceptional physical or mental health needs, when the child expresses a strong desire to make his or her opinions known to the judge, when there is a pro se parent, when there is a third-party custody action against a parent (e.g., by a grandparent), or when the failure to appoint such a representative for the child would otherwise impede the judge’s capacity to decide the case properly.
2. The NACC believes that the federal Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act (PKPA), which is designed to prevent parents from taking children across state lines to relitigate unfavorable child custody and visitation determinations (such determinations to include those made in the context of domestic relations, child welfare, adoption, and other child custody-related cases), has effectively protected children from the harm resulting from such parental actions, and should be maintained in its current form without substantive amendments except for an amendment establishing federal district court jurisdiction to resolve conflicting state court claims to jurisdiction over child custody cases, thereby nullifying the Supreme Court decision in Thompson v. Thompson, 484 U.S. 174 (1988).
Criminal Justice Policy
1. The NACC believes that in addition to civil law remedies (such as civil child welfare proceedings and civil proceedings to recover financial damages), victims of child maltreatment benefit from a criminal justice system which recognizes the importance of effectively prosecuting crimes against children and considers the special needs of child victims.
2. The NACC supports legislation and rules requiring courts to appoint an independent attorney for the child victim in cases of criminal prosecution of child maltreatment. (See Guardians Ad Litem in the Criminal Courts, National Institute of Justice, US Dept. of Justice, 1988).
3. The NACC supports legislation and policies that provide victim services to child victims of maltreatment. (See 18 U.S.C. §3509(h)).
4. The NACC supports legislation and rules allowing special procedures to protect child victims from harm caused by the criminal justice process, including hearsay exceptions and videotape testimony when the victim of a crime is a child. (See Child Abuse and Neglect State Statute Series, Volume IV, Child Witnesses; USDHHS, NCCAN, NCPCA, APRI; 1/800-FYI-3366).
5. The NACC believes that states should enact and enforce "felony child abuse" laws that give states a prosecutorial charging option in addition to traditional criminal statutes. (See Child Abuse and Neglect State Statute Series, Volume V, Crimes; USDHHS, NCCAN, NCPCA, APRI; 1/800-FYI-3366).
6. The NACC believes that state criminal statutes should not provide for lesser penalties for intra-familial child abuse (physical and sexual) than for extra-familial child abuse.
Amended: 3-30-98; 10-10-98; 4-25-99; 4-8-00; 8-25-00; 4-28-01