Report: Children not always represented in Idaho protection cases

A new study says Idaho has serious gaps in representation for children involved in protective services cases.

The report by the Office of Performance Evaluation looked in detail at 207 cases, a sample of the roughly 3,300 statewide child protection cases in 2017. In about a third of those cases, children involved in a child protective services case, which often results in the removal of a child from their parents’ home, didn’t receive the representation of either a court-appointed advocate or a public defender.

Idaho law requires all children to receive such representation, and OPE found that without it, children are less likely to find permanent placement or to have an effective voice in child protection cases. Shortages in state funding for child advocates and an insufficient number of private volunteers were cited as contributors to the problem.

The state also has no entity charged with overseeing how often children go without representation, and OPE has recommended the creation of an oversight and reporting program. Idaho’s guardian ad litem system differs from that in some states, where the ad litem is sometimes a court-appointed attorney.

In Idaho, each judicial district has a designated private nonprofit entity which organizes and arranges training for volunteers who serve to represent the wishes and interests of children in child protection cases. Guardians ad litem often spend significant time with children to develop an understanding of their best interests and desires, and they advise courts and public defenders, in those cases where public defenders are appointed.

The report quoted an unnamed Idaho judge, who said representation of children is most effective when children receive both a volunteer guardian ad litem and a court-appointed attorney.  (Post Register)