Parents Representation Program


In 1999, the Washington State Legislature asked the Washington State Office of Public Defense (OPD) to report on inequalities in attorney funding in dependency and termination cases. OPD conducted an investigation of Washington's juvenile courts, finding severe disparities between state funding for the Attorney General's Office for the initiation and processing of these cases compared to the funding provided by counties for legal representation of the indigent parents involved.

In 2000, OPD sought a legislative appropriation to create an innovative state-funded enhanced parent representation pilot program in the Benton-Franklin and Pierce juvenile courts.

As of Fall 2017, the program operates in 34 of Washington's 39 counties:  Asotin, Benton, Chelan, Clallam, Clark, Columbia, Cowlitz, Ferry, Franklin, Garfield, Grant, Grays Harbor, Jefferson, King, Klickitat, Kitsap, Kittitas, Lincoln, Mason, Okanogan, Pacific, Pend Oreille, Pierce, San Juan, Skagit, Skamania, Snohomish, Spokane, Stevens, Thurston, Wahkiakum, Whatcom, Whitman, and Yakima. OPD is funded to extend the program to all remaining counties beginning in July 2018.

The Legislature established five program goals to enhance the quality of defense representation in dependency and termination hearings:

  1. Reduce the number of continuances requested by attorneys; including those based on their unavailability.
  2. Set maximum caseload requirements per full-time attorney. In 2003, OPD set the fulltime maximum caseload at 80 open cases per attorney.
  3. Enhance defense attorneys' practice standards, including reasonable time for case preparation and the delivery of adequate client advice.
  4. Support the use of investigative and expert services in dependency cases.
  5. Ensure implementation of indigency screenings of parents, guardians, and legal custodians.

To achieve these goals, program implementation includes reasonable compensation for attorneys, reduced caseloads, access to independent social worker staff, expert and investigative resources, periodic attorney trainings, and oversight of attorneys' performance.

The Parents Representation Program has succeeded in meeting its goals, according to evaluations and juvenile court stakeholder interviews (view program evaluations). It has resulted in better outcomes for children, including increased family reunifications, fewer continuances, improved case participation by parents, and better access to services, among other benefits.

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