(TRENTON) – An Assembly panel on Monday released legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Carmelo Garcia, Charles Mainor, Raj Mukherji and Valerie Vainieri Huttle to authorize Office of Public Defender to provide legal representation for child in proceedings after parental rights have been terminated.
“This legislation ensures the protection of our children in legal matters if their parents are deemed incapable. The state should absolutely step in to protect children in these situations,” said Garcia (D-Hudson).
Current law does not expressly provide legal representation to a child, except during child abuse or neglect actions and termination of parental rights proceedings.
Specifically, the bill (A-2550) requires a child to be provided legal representation by a law guardian after the parental rights of a child’s parent or parents have been terminated and until the child’s permanent placement has been finalized by the court.
“Extending services of the Office of the Public Offender to children whose parents’ rights were terminated safeguards their interests in New Jersey’s courtrooms,” said Mainor (D-Hudson).
“Children should be assured legal counsel in New Jersey when their welfare is at stake,” said Mukherji (D-Hudson), who was an emancipated minor. “This guarantees a child in these circumstances a voice in the courtroom.”
“Empowering children with legal representation ensures that the courts will consider the child’s point of view in proceedings that determine their future,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen).
The bill further provides that, to the extent practicable, the same law guardian who represented the child in the termination of parental rights proceeding continue to represent the child until the child’s permanent placement has been decided by the court.
The bill was released by the Assembly Appropriations Committee.