In re the Dependency of K.P.T.
Monday, September 21, 2015
Court: Court of Appeals, Division One of the State of Washington
Topic: Children’s Right to Counsel in Dependency Proceedings
K.P.T. is a 10-year-old child who was removed from his home in January of 2015 due to concerns of dependency and neglect. His mother requested the appointment of counsel at public expense for K.P.T. in the dependency proceeding, arguing that he had a federal and state constitutional right to the appointment of an attorney. The trial court denied the request. Without addressing the constitutional arguments made by his mother, the trial court stated that K.P.T. would not benefit from counsel and that it would reconsider the issue if it became evident that he was not being adequately heard. This brief argues that due process requires the appointment of counsel for children in dependency proceedings in the state of Washington. Dependency proceedings involve the most fundamental issues in a child’s life, such as where they will live and who will care for them. Children’s substantive rights to family integrity and physical liberty are at stake in these proceedings and counsel must be appointed to children to adequately protect their fundamental liberty interests. Furthermore, independent legal counsel is necessary to protect children’s legal rights and express interests. Although the Washington Supreme Court recognizes the necessity of counsel for the state and parents in dependency proceedings, it is an outlier in not also requiring appointed counsel for children by statute. Guardians ad litem, while invaluable to the dependency process, cannot substitute for children’s counsel because their role is to determine and protect the best interests of the child rather than the child’s legal rights and expressed wishes. The appointment of independent legal counsel for children is necessary to put them on equal footing with the other parties in a dependency proceeding.
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