Florida Legislature establishes right to counsel for certain dependent children

Key_development Question_mark

04/30/2014, Legislation, Abuse/Neglect/Dependency - Children

In 2014 the Florida Legislature passed HB561, which created Fla. Stat. §  39.01305(3) and requires appointment of counsel for certain children in dependency and termination of parental rights cases, such as children with developmental disabilities, those residing in a skilled nursing facility, and children who are victims of human trafficking. New media outlet NationSwell recently discussed the law.


The new law enacted in 2020 expands the existing law governing appointment of counsel for children in Florida. Fla. R. Juv. P. 8.217(a), which covers both dependency and termination of parental rights, provides, "At any stage of the proceedings, any party may request or the court may consider whether an attorney ad litem is necessary to represent any child alleged to be dependent, if one has not already been appointed", while 8.217(b) adds, "The court may appoint an attorney ad litem to represent the child in any proceeding as allowed by law."


Also worthy of note is a statutory provision detailing the legislature's goals for dependent children: 

The Legislature finds that the design and delivery of child welfare services should be directed by the principle that the health and safety of children, including the freedom from abuse, abandonment, or neglect, is of paramount concern and, therefore, establishes the following goals for children in shelter or foster care: ... To have a guardian ad litem appointed to represent, within reason, their best interests and, if appropriate, an attorney ad litem appointed to represent their legal interests; the guardian ad litem and attorney ad litem shall have immediate and unlimited access to the children they represent.

Fla. Stat. § 39.4085(1)(t).

Appointment of Counsel: categorical Qualified: yes



NCCRC provided some input on the language of the bill.