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BOSTON � A recent Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling that parents have a right to counsel in juvenile court cases concerning the child in need of services (CHINS) law when custody is at stake will boost the demand for lawyers to work on the cases. The CHINS law, which was enacted in 1973 as an effort to decriminalize truancy, allows a parent, guardian, a police officer, or certain school officials to ask the Juvenile Court to determine that a child with certain behaviors needs services, which are usually provided by the Massachusetts Department of Social Services. The CHINS law covers children under the age of 17 who repeatedly run away, are truant or do not obey parents or guardians. In his ruling about the issue of first impression Associate Justice Roderick L. Ireland reversed a county juvenile court decision that denied an indigent mother’s request for court-appointed counsel in a CHINS case where the judge was mulling whether to give the Massachusetts Department of Social Services custody of the child. Ireland’s decision also discussed similar decision in another county, even though the case became moot when the court dismissed the CHINS petition. In the Matter of HILARY (and a consolidated case) No. SJC-10036 (Mass.) “It is in keeping with the legislative intent to provide appointed counsel at the dispositional stage of CHINS proceedings if the judge is considering awarding custody to the department,” Ireland wrote. The decision means a “whole new class of people” will have party status in CHINS cases and entitled to court-appointed counsel or the right to have their private attorneys heard, said family law attorney Claudia Leis Bolgen of Woburn, Mass.-based Bolgen & Bolgen, who represented a plaintiff in the case. The court impounded the name of Bolgen’s client, who was one of the mothers in one of the lower court cases. “There will be a greater need for lawyers to involves themselves in CHINS.” Bolgen also said she doesn’t remember the last time the right to counsel has been expanded in Massachusetts. “There’s now a recognition that parents in these sorts of cases have legal interests at stake,” Bolgen said. In a statement, Massachusetts Department of Social Services spokesman Richard Nangle said the CHINS system should be “transformed” to allows families “to access in-home and out-of-home behavioral health services without giving up custody” of a child. Nagle also said the agency is hopeful that pending state legislation “will eliminate the need for DSS to gain custody of a child before a parent receives needed services.”

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