In order to protect and represent children whose parents have lost parental rights, a bill sponsored by Senator Jim Whelan that would require the court to provide legal representation to these children was approved today by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“Children in these tough situations where their parents’ rights have been terminated often don’t have anyone on their side, ensuring that their voices are being heard,” said Senator Whelan, D-Atlantic. “By allowing these kids a court-appointed public defender, we are giving them someone who is protecting their interests. This can be vital to ensure that these kids don’t get lost in the system.”
The bill, S-315, would require that a child be provided legal representation by a law guardian after the parental rights of the child’s parent or guardian have been terminated and until the child’s permanent placement has been finalized by the court. Additionally, the bill would encourage that the same law guardian who represented the child in the termination of parental rights proceeding continue to represent the child until a permanent placement has been decided by the court.
Senator Whelan notes that legal proceedings for kids whose parents have lost their parental rights often don’t end when those rights are removed. This legislation will foster the stability provided by the continued presence of a public defender.
According to the Administrative Office of the Courts and the Department of Children and Families, approximately 1,100 termination of parental rights cases are filed yearly.
The bill is supported by the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Atlantic and Cape May Counties.
The bill was approved with a vote of 11-0. It now heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for further review.