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The Defender Association of Philadelphia is an independent, not-for-profit corporation that was created in 1934 by a group of Philadelphia lawyers dedicated to the ideal of high-quality legal services for indigent criminal defendants. The Child Advocacy Unit (CAU), as a unit within the Defender Association, continues that ideal in the representation of abused, neglected, abandoned, mentally ill and mentally challenged children. In 1974, the CAU came into existence as a pilot project. It began actively representing children in 1976 with fewer than five people on staff. The CAU, then as now, requires court appointment to represent a child. Early on, the decision to appoint a child advocate was wholly within the discretion of the presiding judge and thus the CAU was appointed in some cases when the presiding judge determined the parent’s interests were in conflict with those of the child. However, as a direct result of a federal class action lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Juvenile Law Center in 1989, every child who has a dependent petition pending in the Philadelphia Dependency Court system now has a child advocate. Following the federal court’s approval of the parties’ agreement in T.M. v. City of Philadelphia, in April 1990 the CAU was identified to provide the bulk of this representation. The CAU presently represents approximately 5,000 dependent children in the system. Although the CAU provides legal representation, its attorneys also protect and promote the legal interests of these children and strive to serve their best interests. The diversity of our client population mandates the duality of our role as “lawyer” and “guardian ad litem.” Our clients can be as young as three days old or as old as 21 years of age. We represent children who are physically abused, neglected or abandoned, as well as those who are alleged to be mentally ill, truant and incorrigible. The American Bar Association Standards of Practice for Lawyers Who Represent Children in Abuse and Neglect Cases take the position that a lawyer may accept appointments in the dual capacity of lawyer and guardian ad litem as long as a conflict of interest doesn’t exist. The Rules of Juvenile Court Procedures in Dependency Matters, which became effective on Feb. 1, modify the dual role of child advocates to some degree by requiring appointment of legal counsel in certain delineated types of cases such as truancy and incorrigibility. Nonetheless, the CAU provides representation in both capacities, as the law requires. The Dependency Court judges in Philadelphia County expect and demand that child advocates perform a comprehensive and independent investigation before taking a position that factors in to what is best for the child. Such investigation includes, but is not limited to, contacts with the child, parents, other relatives, Department of Human Services social workers, teachers, counselors, therapists, placement agency social workers, medical doctors, foster parents and other legal advocates. Unlike private court-appointed counsel who practice in dependency court, the CAU uses a multidisciplinary approach to representing our dependent clients. Our team includes lawyers, social workers and paralegals. Every child is assigned an attorney and a social worker. Our attorneys and paralegal staff the seven dependency courtrooms on a daily basis. Both our legal and social service staffs attend planning meetings, and we are constantly responding, often at a moments notice, to inquiries from judges, clients, social workers, doctors and other lawyers. Intense preparation goes into the trial process including, but not limited to, witness preparation, research and writing of legal memoranda, preparation of social service assessments and recommendations, review of medical records and other documentation, attendance at pre-trial conferences, etc. The importance of the role of our 40 social workers must not be overlooked. Our clients are located in the homes of parents, relatives and friends, as well as in foster and group homes, residential settings, hospitals or supervised independent living situations. While many of these placements are in the city, an enormous number are in other counties in Pennsylvania, and some are out-of-state placements. Our social workers are responsible for maintaining client contact, visiting various placements, attending meetings, testifying in court, and providing updates and recommendations for the lawyers through written memoranda and case conferences. Our representation of children goes beyond issues of dependency. We also represent our clients in Termination of Parental Rights hearings, both where the parents agree to voluntarily give up their parental rights as well as in involuntary or contested proceedings. Should reunification with the biological parent fail, our job is to ensure the timely adoption of children into loving and nurturing homes; therefore we continue our representation until the adoption is finalized. Only then are the dependency matters discharged from court and our representation ends. This overview of the CAU is intended to provide you with an understanding of our role as child advocates and the enormous amount of work that goes into fulfilling that role. Though the workload is tremendous and the job never-ending, we are committed to helping children find permanency in a safe and nurturing setting. We sincerely hope you join us in this endeavor.

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