In cases of child abuse and neglect, Pennsylvania’s dependency laws both empower courts to act to protect the child and offer opportunities to bolster the parent-child relationship. However, when courts determine that maintenance of the parent-child relationship is not in the child’s best interest, termination of parental rights proceedings play an essential role in freeing the child for adoption.

Pennsylvania’s General Assembly has recognized that termination proceedings are both a necessary mechanism for permanency and a significant intrusion in the life of a child. As a result, the General Assembly enacted 23 PA. CONST. STAT. § 2313(a), a provision in the state’s Adoption Act requiring dependency courts to appoint legal counsel for children whose parents’ rights are subject to involuntary termination. On its face, Section 2313(a) creates a child-centered representation model that acknowledges the importance of giving a voice to children who face permanent separation from their biological parents. Inherent complexities associated with effectively representing children across the developmental spectrum have, however, illuminated inadequacies in Section 2313(a)’s framework.

Between March 2017 and the publication of this Comment, Pennsylvania’s Superior Court has remanded approximately 40 termination decrees based on noncompliance with Section 2313(a). This Comment argues that the struggles of courts and legal representatives to consistently apply Section 2313(a)’s representation mandate has created additional instability in the lives of vulnerable children. After providing an overview of the role that termination proceedings play in the child welfare system and discussing the predominant child representation models, this Comment analyzes Pennsylvania case law that interprets and applies Section 2313(a). This Comment concludes by offering practical recommendations for ways to enhance Section 2313(a)’s representation scheme, to avoid protracted termination proceedings, and to achieve permanent placements for children.


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