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Child Custody
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Responsibilities of a Child Advocate Attorney

Child advocate attorneys work to protect the rights of minors in cases involving divorce, child custody, neglect or abuse, and juvenile court proceedings.

Courts will appoint a child advocate attorney in the following circumstances:

In criminal cases brought in juvenile court, parents can retain a private attorney to represent the minor, or the court will appoint a child advocate attorney because juveniles are entitled to legal representation in these matters.

Role of the Attorney Advocate

Child advocate attorneys are usually trained in representing minors or have taken particular courses in family and juvenile law issues. Attorneys can become certified through the National Association of Counsel for Children (NACC) in child welfare law. To be certified attorneys must have been in practice for three years, have spent 30 percent of the past three years working in the field of child welfare, and completed 36 hours or more of continuing legal education courses in child welfare law. They must also demonstrate written proficiency and legal knowledge in this specialized area.

Some responsibilities of child advocate attorneys include the following:
  • Conducting investigations
  • Participating in all court proceedings and negotiations
  • Obtaining all relevant records regarding the child and parents
  • Receiving notice of all court documents
  • Requesting hearings
  • Presenting evidence in support of the advocate’s position
  • Ascertaining and presenting the wishes of the child to the court
  • Collecting child support payments
  • Making recommendations to the court

Juvenile Court and Special Education

In juvenile court proceedings, an attorney advocate will coordinate court services with community agencies and resources that provide assistance or treatment programs for children in need of drug or alcohol abuse or other counseling. Advocates also investigate the circumstances of a criminal charge and make recommendations to the juvenile court regarding a suitable disposition of the case.

Other child advocate attorneys serve as special education advocates representing parents and children of special needs in issues concerning services and treatment by school districts to ensure that these children receive an appropriate public education as provided by law. Advocates also counsel children and their parents or guardians about accessing resources and understanding their legal rights.

Finally, child advocates research legislative proposals and lobby state legislatures on behalf of children’s rights. Reforms in the juvenile justice system are always at issue, as are student rights regarding the authority of school districts.