Published in The Guardian, Vol. 43, No. 4 (Winter 2021)
On December 13, 2021, the NACC Board of Directors voted unanimously to approve new NACC Recommendations for Legal Representation of Children and Youth in Neglect and Abuse Proceedings (NACC Recommendations), linked here. Their adoption replaces and rescinds the 2001 NACC Recommendations for Representation of Children in Abuse and Neglect Cases and the 1996/1999 amended NACC Revised ABA Standards for Lawyers who Represent Children in Abuse and Neglect Cases.
This action marks another milestone in NACC’s journey to develop a child and youth-centered legal profession, advance the highest-quality of legal representation, and assist jurisdictions seeking to establish and improve attorney representation. The 2021 NACC Recommendations were co-designed by young people with lived experience in the child welfare system, NACC’s National Advisory Council on Children’s Legal Representation. We are deeply grateful for their contributions, as well as the many attorneys, individuals with lived expertise, and organizational partners who participated in this two-year process. The feedback we received during two comment periods was invaluable.
The NACC Recommendations establish 10 primary duties of attorneys for children and youth which reflect our overall vision for effective, high-quality legal representation:
1. Establish an Attorney-Client Relationship: Attorneys for children and youth should adhere to an expressed interest model of legal representation.
2. Support the Attorney-Client Relationship: Attorneys for children and youth should maintain frequent contact and intentional communication, tailored to the client’s individual circumstances.
3. Offer Legal Counsel and Advice: Attorneys for children and youth have an ongoing, affirmative duty to advise clients of their rights, educate them about the legal process, inform them of their options, and counsel their decision-making.
4. Ensure Opportunity for Full Participation: Attorneys for children and youth should proactively ensure opportunity for meaningful participation in court hearings and other case events.
5. Provide Competent Legal Representation: Attorneys for children and youth should provide competent legal representation.
6. Provide Loyal and Independent Legal Representation: Attorneys for children and youth should guarantee loyalty and independence throughout their legal representation.
7. Maintain Confidentiality: Attorneys for children and youth should adhere to the same confidentiality and privilege rules as they do for adult clients, consistent with state law.
8. Advance Equity in Legal Representation: Attorneys for children and youth should engage in culturally humble representation and actively challenge inequitable treatment.
9. Provide 360 Advocacy: Attorneys for children and youth should seek to understand their clients as whole people, inside and outside the context of the legal proceedings, and provide holistic advocacy.
10. Preserve Continuity of Legal Representation: Attorneys for children and youth should endeavor to provide uninterrupted legal representation.
We urge you to read this document in full, but here are a few highlights:
• Enhanced emphasis on client-centered attorney practice with greater time investment in out-of-court communication and zealous advocacy.
• NACC’s prior recommended caseload cap of 100 has been reduced to 40-60 clients, to allow for the more robust level of engagement that research shows makes a difference.
• While the prior Recommendations took a neutral position on models of child representation, these explicitly endorse client-directed representation, consistent with NACC policy which preceded and followed the 2001 Recommendations.
• Overall, you will find a significant expansion of content, to provide more specificity to practitioners at this critical juncture in our field.
The NACC Recommendations were not designed to reflect the current national landscape of legal services for children. They envision the future of children’s justice. NACC is aware that state statutes, funding and practice norms may currently restrict practitioners from implementing these Recommendations in full. In these instances, we encourage practitioners to follow the NACC Recommendations as closely as possible.
Since our founding nearly 45 years ago, NACC’s purpose has been two-fold: to lead and support. To lead the development and advancement of the profession of children’s legal representation and to support the lawyers and organizations representing children with training, tools, informational resources, and networking opportunities. NACC will continue to partner with, support, train, and serve children’s attorneys working in all jurisdictions and models, as well as attorneys representing parents and social service agencies. Alongside practitioners, the ultimate beneficiaries of NACC’s programs are the children, youth, and families our community serves because it is through client-centered zealous advocacy that children, youth, and families can access justice in dependency court.
Thank you for being a part of this journey and for all your personal and professional contributions to the development of the field of children’s law. From a cause to a profession, to a movement, we are NACC. Together we are Promoting Excellence, Building Community, Advancing Justice.