Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock () or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

February 2011Vol. 12, No. 1Ethical Practice When Representing Very Young Children

The American Bar Association (ABA) Center on Children and the Law recently published a Practice and Policy Brief designed for attorneys and those representing very young children in dependency proceedings. The brief outlines some of the ethical dilemmas faced by these representatives, and it outlines the four types of advocacy essential to achieving the best outcomes for young children in these cases:

  • Child-centered
  • Research-informed
  • Permanency-driven
  • Holistic

Ethical guidance for attorneys who represent children of any age in child abuse and neglect cases comes from the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct. Recognizing that unique circumstances and challenges arise in child maltreatment cases, the ABA developed Standards of Practice for Lawyers Who Represent Children in Abuse and Neglect Cases as guidelines or nonbinding principles of best practice. This brief refers to both the ABA Model Rules and ABA Standards when discussing practical and ethical considerations that may arise when representing a very young child. These include ethics surrounding:

  • Communicating with represented parties
  • Confidentiality of information
  • Diminished capacity
  • Attorney as witness
  • Conflict of interest
  • Diligent representation

Specific guidance is provided for ways that an attorney can learn more about a child's situation, understand a child's developmental challenges, and help a child develop positive relationships within the context of ethical practice.

The brief stresses that representing very young children in dependency proceedings can be challenging. Effective and ethical representation often demands that the attorney be proactive, seeking out opportunities to observe and interact with the very young child client and speed the legal process, while also maintaining the child's critical relationships.

Advocating for Very Young Children in Dependency Proceedings: The Hallmarks of Effective, Ethical Representation,
by Candice L. Maze, is available on the ABA website: (2,183 KB)