2004 Florida Statutes
Pilot program for attorneys ad litem for dependent children.
(1) LEGISLATIVE INTENT.--In furtherance of the goals set forth in s. 39.4085, it is the intent of the Legislature that children who are maintained in out-of-home care by court order under s. 39.402 receive competent legal representation.
(a) The Office of the State Courts Administrator shall establish a 3-year pilot Attorney Ad Litem Program in the Ninth Judicial Circuit.
(b) The Office of the State Courts Administrator shall establish the pilot program in the Ninth Judicial Circuit by October 1, 2000. The Ninth Judicial Circuit may contract with a private or public entity in the Ninth Judicial Circuit to establish the pilot program. The private or public entity must have appropriate expertise in representing the rights of children taken into custody by the Department of Children and Family Services. The Office of the State Courts Administrator shall identify measurable outcomes, including, but not limited to, the impact of counsel on child safety, improvements in the provision of appropriate services, and any reduction in the length of stay of children in state care. The pilot program shall be established and operate independently of any other state agency responsible for the care of children taken into custody.
(c) The Ninth Judicial Circuit shall designate an attorney within the Ninth Judicial Circuit to conduct the administrative oversight of the pilot program. The program administrator must be a member in good standing of The Florida Bar and must have 5 or more years of experience in the area of child advocacy, child welfare, or juvenile law. The administrative oversight of the pilot program is subject to supervision by the Ninth Judicial Circuit.
(d) The Office of the State Courts Administrator in conjunction with the pilot program shall develop a training program for attorneys ad litem which includes, but need not be limited to, appropriate standards of practice for attorneys who represent children.
(e) Within funds specifically appropriated for this pilot program, the Office of the State Courts Administrator in conjunction with the pilot program shall design an appropriate attorney ad litem program and may establish the number of attorneys needed to serve as attorneys ad litem and may employ attorneys and other personnel. An attorney ad litem must be a member in good standing of The Florida Bar and may not serve as an attorney ad litem until he or she has completed the training program.
(f) The court shall appoint the entity responsible for representation of children in the Ninth Judicial Circuit under the pilot program who are continued in out-of-home care at the shelter hearing conducted under s. 39.402 if the court deems attorney ad litem representation necessary. At any time following the shelter hearing, the court may appoint an attorney ad litem upon the motion of any party, or upon the court's own motion if an attorney ad litem has not yet been appointed and the court deems such representation necessary. The attorney ad litem's representation shall be limited to proceedings initiated under this chapter only. The court must appoint a guardian ad litem pursuant to s. 39.822 for all children who have been appointed an attorney ad litem. Upon this action by the court, the department shall provide to the administrator, at a minimum, the name of the child, the location and placement of the child, the name of the department's authorized agent and contact information, copies of all notices sent to the parent or legal custodian of the child, and other information or records concerning the child.
(g) Upon the court's direction, the pilot program administrator shall assign an attorney ad litem to represent the child. Once assigned, the attorney ad litem shall represent the child's wishes for purposes of proceedings under this chapter as long as the child's wishes are consistent with the safety and well-being of the child. The child's attorney must in all circumstances fulfill the same duties of advocacy, loyalty, confidentiality, and competent representation which are due an adult client. The court must approve any action by the attorney ad litem restricting access to the child by the guardian ad litem or by any other party. The attorney ad litem shall represent the child until the program is discharged by order of the court because permanency has been achieved or the court believes that the attorney ad litem is no longer necessary.
(h) The Office of the State Courts Administrator shall conduct research and gather statistical information to evaluate the establishment, operation, and impact of the pilot program in meeting the legal needs of dependent children. In assessing the effects of the pilot program, including achievement of outcomes identified under paragraph (b), the evaluation must include a comparison of children within the Ninth Judicial Circuit who are appointed an attorney ad litem with those who are not. The office shall submit a report to the Legislature and the Governor by October 1, 2001, and by October 1, 2002, regarding its findings. The office shall submit a final report by October 1, 2003, which must include an evaluation of the pilot program; findings on the feasibility of a statewide program; and recommendations, if any, for locating, establishing, and operating a statewide program.
(3) STANDARDS.--The Supreme Court is requested, by October 1, 2000, to adopt rules of juvenile procedure which include the duties, responsibilities, and conduct of an attorney ad litem. The Office of the State Courts Administrator, in consultation with the Dependency Court Improvement Committee of the Supreme Court, shall develop implementation guidelines for the attorney ad litem pilot program.
(4) FUNDING.--The Office of the State Courts Administrator shall conduct the pilot program subject to the specific appropriation of funds.
(5) The provisions in this section of the act shall take effect October 1, 2000.
History.--s. 88, ch. 2000-139; s. 1, ch. 2001-370.