Literature Review of Studies on the Effectiveness of Advocacy Models for Children in Dependency
Report 21-07, December 2021
- Federal law requires states to appoint a guardian ad litem to represent a child’s best interest in every case of abuse or neglect that results in a judicial proceeding. State requirements vary regarding whether guardians ad litem must be attorneys, volunteer court-appointed special advocates, or other types of professionals. Depending on a state’s requirements, a child may be appointed a client-directed attorney instead of or in addition to a guardian ad litem.
- OPPAGA reviewed literature on the effectiveness of different models of advocacy for children in dependency proceedings. The focus of this field of study has shifted over time from assessing efficacy of volunteers to assessing attorney representation. Studies have increasingly shown widespread consensus among academics, practitioners, and states favoring legal representation for children in dependency proceedings.
- Numerous authors have identified research limitations of these studies, which hinder the ability to draw conclusions from the results. Limitations are related to generalizability of results, study design, small sample sizes, selection bias, and data adequacy or availability.
- OPPAGA’s review identified only one study that directly compared legal to volunteer advocacy; others examined the efficacy of one advocacy model or compared multiple models. Studies in this field have reported mixed results across a variety of topics, including child outcomes, child well-being, legal factors, and advocate behavior.
- Several studies reported benefits of a multidisciplinary team approach, including better child outcomes, better family preservation, improved information to the court, and increased case dismissal rates for some children. While a multidisciplinary team approach has been consistently recommended over the years, the literature has only recently shifted to evaluations of team outcomes.
- Consistent with the findings of the literature review, documents OPPAGA reviewed from professional organizations, federal agencies, and state and local entities focused on high quality legal representation, and several recommended multidisciplinary team models.
- A consistent theme in studies and documents, regardless of advocacy model, is the benefits of having strong advocates with in-depth knowledge of social and legal systems.
child advocacy, guardian ad litem, GAL, court appoint special advocate, CASA