South Carolina Lawyer
Vol. 14, No. 2, Pg. 20.
Child abuse and neglect cases
20Child abuse and neglect casesBy Tana VanderbiltWhat strikes fear in the heart of every attorney who does not practice regularly in family court? It is getting notice of a court appointment in a child abuse and neglect case. That fear can be quelled, however, by reading this article and knowing that help is available in navigating the maze of these hearings.
Usually the first information that you get about a child protection case is the court order appointing you to represent a party in the case. The appointment order may come to you by fax or mail and is made pursuant to South Carolina Appellate Court Rule 608. Most often, you will be appointed either as the attorney for one of the parents of a child allegedly abused or neglected, as the Guardian ad Litem (GAL) for the child or as the attorney for the GAL representing the child. Make sure you read the appointment order carefully so you know who you have been ordered to represent.
While this article assumes that you have been appointed as an attorney to represent one of the parents, it is applicable to any type of appointment. If you are appointed as a GAL for the child, you should refer to the Guidelines for Guardians ad Litem published by the South Carolina Bar, available at www.scbar.org.
In order to efficiently navigate your way through your appointment, you need to be aware of other important participants in a child protection action. First, the Department of Social Services (DSS) is the agency that prosecutes the abuse and neglect action. DSS becomes involved with a family when it obtains information that a child is possibly being abused or neglected. A DSS caseworker completes a preliminary investigation, and if it appears to the caseworker that the allegations of abuse or neglect may carry weight, she institutes an action to either remove the child from the home or leave the child in the home but provide services to the family. The DSS caseworker will have an attorney who will take the case through the court system.
In addition, in all child protection cases the child or children involved are appointed a GAL. Most of the time the GAL is a volunteer who has received training to do this job. Sometimes an attorney can be appointed as a GAL. The roles and duties of the GAL in these types of cases are set out in S.C. Code Ann. § 20-7-121 through § 20-7-127(Supp. 2001). You should encourage your client to cooperate with the GAL and provide him or her the information requested. The GAL will make a recommendation to the court as to what he or she believes is in the best interests of the child. The GAL will also provide a written report to the court and the parties. You have the right to call the GAL as a witness and subject him to cross examination as to his recommendations and the bases therefor.
Another organization involved in child protection cases is the Foster Care Review Board. Each county has this citizen review board that reviews cases of children who have been in foster care placements for longer than four months. The board reviews cases every six months and sends written reports and recommendations to the family court, which are placed in the court file. Usually, the only party that presents information about your client to the review board is the DSS caseworker; as such, your client may not be presented in as favorable a light as he or she might be. Thus, it is helpful to your client if you can attend these meetings as well. The foster care review board statutes are found at S.C. Code Ann. § 20-7 2376, et seq.
Because you are entitled to be reimbursed for your work as an appointed attorney, you should document all telephone calls, meetings, interviews and other time spent on this case as you would any other case. You can file for reimbursement with the Office of Indigent Defense (OID). Fees are set at $40 per hour with a maximum of $1,750 per case. A voucher for payment can be obtained from the OID Web site at www.scoid.state.sc.us. Attorneys representing the GAL for...