In 1999, the Washington State Legislature asked us to report on inequalities in attorney funding in dependency and termination cases.
An investigation found severe differences in funding between the Attorney General's Office and the counties for legal representation in these cases.
In 2000, a state-funded pilot program launched in the Benton-Franklin and Pierce juvenile courts.
The Legislature established five program goals to enhance the quality of defense representation:
- Reduce the number of continuances requested by attorneys; including those based on their unavailability.
- Set maximum caseload requirements per full-time attorney. In 2003, we set a fulltime caseload at 80 open cases per attorney.
- Enhance defense attorneys' practice standards, including reasonable time for case preparation and the delivery of adequate client advice.
- Support the use of investigative and expert services in dependency cases.
- Ensure implementation of indigency screenings of parents, guardians, and legal custodians.
To achieve these goals, we worked to increase compensation for attorneys, reduce caseloads, provide access to independent social workers, experts and investigative resources, provide training, and oversight of attorneys' performance.
Support from independent social workers has proven to be a crucial component of the program providing support to the attorneys and the clients. As it has evolved, about a third of the contracted social workers are now parents with lived experience.
We succeeded in meeting these goals. The results- better outcomes for children, including increased family reunifications, fewer continuances, improved case participation by parents, and better access to services, among other benefits.
In 2018, the program deployed statewide. It is now a nationwide recognized multi-disciplinary parent representation model.