§ 3601 Purpose and construction of chapter.
(a) Children who appear in Family Court as the subject of custody, visitation, guardianship, termination of parental rights, adoption and other related petitions that involve a dependent, neglected or abused child often are situated in the middle of an adversary process. These children have no one to represent their best interests, as opposed to the interests of the petitioner and respondent. Furthermore, when the child has no one specifically to represent what is in his or her best interests, the Family Court may only receive information that supports the position of the petitioner or respondent. Therefore, the purpose of this chapter is to provide for a system to ensure that children who are the subject of these proceedings before the Family Court have their best interests represented in those proceedings. To this end, the Family Court will establish and administer a Court-Appointed Special Advocate Program.
(b) This chapter shall be liberally construed that these purposes may be realized.
§ 3602 Definitions.
For the purpose of this chapter, unless the context indicates differently:
(1) "Abuse" or "abused child" is as defined in § 901 of Title 10.
(2) "Adult" means a person who has reached the person's 18th birthday.
(3) "Best interests" as defined in § 722 of Title 13.
(4) "Child" means a person who has not reached the person's 18th birthday.
(5) "Child welfare proceeding" means any Family Court proceeding and subsequent appeal therefrom involving custody, visitation, guardianship, termination of parental rights, adoption and other related petitions that involve a dependent, neglected or abused child or a child at risk of same as determined by a Family Court judge.
(6) "Court" means the Family Court of the State.
(7) "Dependency" or "dependent child" is as defined in § 901 of Title 10.
(8) "Division" means the Division of Family Services of the Department of Services for Children, Youth and Their Families.
(9) "Guardian ad litem" means an individual appointed by the Court to represent the best interests of a child whether or not that reflects the wishes of the child, who by their appointment shall be a party to the child welfare proceeding. The guardian ad litem is charged with obtaining a clear understanding of the situation and needs of the child, and making recommendations to the Court as to what is in the best interests of the child.
(10) "Neglect" or "neglected child" is as defined in § 901 of Title 10.
(11) "Permanency" means the safe, stable, custodial environment in which a child is raised and the life-long relationship that child establishes with a nurturing caregiver.
§ 3603 Established; composition.
(a) There is hereby established a Court-Appointed Special Advocate Program (CASA) within the Family Court.
(b) The program will include coordinators who will be members of the staff of the Family Court. The number and qualifications of coordinators will be established by the Chief Judge of the Family Court. The coordinators will be part of the Merit System. The coordinators will be responsible for the day-to-day operations of the program and will provide direct supervision to the Court-Appointed Special Advocates (CASA).
(c) The program will include contract attorneys who will provide legal representation and advice for the Court-Appointed Special Advocates and for the CASA Program. The program attorneys will be selected by the Chief Judge of the Family Court.
(d) The program will include volunteers to serve as Court-Appointed Special Advocates at the pleasure of the Chief Judge of the Family Court. The Court-Appointed Special Advocate may be appointed in child welfare proceedings or any other proceeding, as deemed appropriate by a Family Court judge.
§ 3604 Court-Appointed Special Advocates — Qual i fi ca tions.
(a) Court-Appointed Special Advocates shall be individuals who have demonstrated an interest in children and their welfare. Court-Appointed Special Advocates must be willing to participate in a training course conducted by the Family Court and in ongoing training and supervision throughout their involvement in the program. Additionally, applicants to become Court-Appointed Special Advocates must submit to background checks and participate in interviews to determine their fitness for these responsibilities. Upon recommendation of the Court-Appointed Special Advocate Coordinator, the Chief Judge of the Family Court will make a final determination regarding a person's participation in the program.
(b) The Court-Appointed Special Advocate must be willing to commit to the Court for 1 year of service. At the end of each year of service, the Court-Appointed Special Advocate with the approval of the Coordinator may recommit for another year.
(c) Court-Appointed Special Advocates will have no associations which create a conflict of interest with their duties as Court-Appointed Special Advocates.
(d) Qualified adults shall not be discriminated against based upon sex, socioeconomic, religious, racial, ethnic or age factors.
§ 3605 Court-appointed special advocates — Appointment.
(a) All court-appointed special advocates must be sworn in by the Chief Judge or a judge of the Family Court before beginning their duties.
(b) In the event that the Family Court judge determines, pursuant to the conditions set forth in § 701(c) of Title 13 [repealed], that a Court-Appointed Special Advocate should be appointed, the Family Court judge shall sign an order appointing the Court-Appointed Special Advocate as guardian ad litem. That order shall impose on the Court-Appointed Special Advocate all the duties, rights and responsibilities set forth in this section. Upon entry of the order, the Court-Appointed Special Advocate shall have the authority to review all documents and interview all pertinent persons having significant information relating to the child and the child's life circumstances.
(c) The appointment shall last until the Court-Appointed Special Advocate is released from responsibility by order of the Court, or until the Court-Appointed Special Advocate's commitment to the Court ends.
(d) The Court-Appointed Special Advocate shall be a party to any child welfare proceeding or any other proceeding in which the Court-Appointed Special Advocate has been appointed in which the child is the subject, and shall possess all the procedural and substantive rights of a party including but not limited to those set forth in § 732 of Title 13.
§ 3606 Court-Appointed Special Advocates — Duties and rights.
The Court-Appointed Special Advocate shall:
(1) Represent the best interests of the child in all child welfare proceedings;
(2) Provide independent, factual information to the Family Court regarding the cases to which he/she is appointed. To that end, the Court-Appointed Special Advocate shall conduct an independent investigation of the circumstances surrounding a case of appointment. This investigation shall include interviews and/or observations of the child and relevant individuals, as well as a review of all relevant records or reports;
(3) Submit a written or oral report to the Court for any court proceeding;
(4) Be provided with notice of every court proceeding and receive copies of every pleading;
(5) Participate in all depositions, negotiations, discovery, pretrial conferences, hearings and appeals;
(6) Have access to all records regarding the child and the child's family maintained by the Division;
(7) Receive reasonable notice from the Division of changes in placement, school or any other change of circumstances affecting the child;
(8) Monitor cases to which they are appointed to assure that the terms of the Court's orders are fulfilled and permanency for the child is achieved;
(9) Receive reasonable notice from the Division of any founded complaint involving:
a. The child, where the child is the alleged victim;
b. The residence in which the child lives; and/or
c. The home-based daycare which the child attends;
(10) Request a hearing before the Court when the plan on behalf of the child is not implemented, is not meeting the child's needs, or upon completion of the investigation;
(11) Request any appropriate relief from the Court on behalf of the child; and
(12) Ascertain the wishes of the child and make the child's wishes known to the Court. If the Court-Appointed Special Advocate concludes that the child's wishes differ from the position of the Court-Appointed Special Advocate, he or she will notify the Court of the conflict.
§ 3607 Court-Appointed Special Advocates — Status.
For the purposes of a Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act [42 U.S.C. § 5106 et seq.] grant to the State under Public Law 93-247 or any related state or federal legislation, the Court-Appointed Special Advocate shall be deemed a guardian ad litem to represent the best interests of the minor in proceedings before the Court. No bond shall be required from any Court-Appointed Special Advocate who serves as a guardian ad litem under this chapter.
§ 3608 Confidentiality.
All records and information acquired or reviewed by a Court-Appointed Special Advocate during the course of the duties shall be deemed confidential and shall be disclosed only pursuant to court order.
§ 3609 Notice of hearings.
The Court-Appointed Special Advocate will be notified of hearings, staffings, investigations, dispositions, appeals or other proceedings concerning the child for whom the Court-Appointed Special Advocate has been appointed.
§ 3610 Acquisition of information by Court-Appointed Special Advocate.
Upon presentation of the order of appointment by the Court-Appointed Special Advocate, any agency, hospital, school, organization, division or department of the State, doctor, nurse or other health care provider, treatment facility, psychologist, psychiatrist, police department or mental health clinic shall permit the Advocate to inspect and copy any records relating to the child or children and parents involved in the case of appointment without consent of the child or children or parents.
§ 3611 Civil liability of participants.
The Director, coordinators, attorneys, and Court-Appointed Special Advocates participating in the Court-Appointed Special Advocate Program shall not be civilly liable for acts or omissions committed in connection with duties which are part of the program if they have acted in good faith and are not guilty of gross negligence.
§ 3612 Federal funding.
Any provisions of this chapter which shall cause the State to lose federal funding shall be considered null and void.
§ 3613 Extended jurisdiction — Child abuse, dependency and neglect.
Notwithstanding any provision in this chapter to the contrary, the Court Appointed Special Advocate program is authorized to provide representation under this chapter to youth for whom jurisdiction has been extended under § 929 of Title 10.