Dependency, Representation, Administration, Funding and Training Program

Innovations in the California Courts - 20 of Years of Great Ideas
One Branch: Dependency Representation. Administration Funding, and Training Program

The Dependency Representation, Administration, Funding, and Training (DRAFT) program was established in 2004 at the direction of the Judicial Council. DRAFT was started as a pilot program designed to stabilize the costs related to appointed dependency counsel and test the use of performance and compensation standards for court-appointed attorneys in juvenile dependency cases.

In many instances, when a county social services agency believes a child has been abused or neglected, the agency files a petition with its local juvenile court, thus initiating a juvenile dependency case. Both parents and children are entitled to legal representation, but many are unable to pay for their own attorneys. In these cases, the juvenile court appoints attorneys to represent the parents and the dependent children, and the state pays for these attorneys through funds administered by the Administrative Office of the Courts.

With the passage of the Trial Court Funding Act in 1997, funding for the courts shifted from the counties to the state. The funding for court-appointed dependency counsel services was included as part of that transition; thus, local courts continued to administer—and began to directly fund—attorney services for juvenile cases. However, dependency counsel services had varied considerably from county to county, with significant differences in juvenile court caseloads, performance standards, and compensation. Trial court funding tended to institutionalize these disparate funding levels and standards. At the same time, in the years immediately following the transition to state funding, the overall costs of dependency counsel were escalating. The purpose of the DRAFT program is to bring uniformity and fiscal efficiency to this confusing assortment of methods. This purpose furthers Goal III of the strategic plan of the judicial branch, which states that the court system must operate efficiently and effectively.

Ten court systems volunteered to participate, including some of the largest (Los Angeles) and smallest (Mendocino) in the state. In establishing the program, the council directed staff to work with participating courts, attorney providers, and an oversight committee to create new standards for dependency counsel caseloads, compensation, and performance.

In partnership with the volunteer courts, the AOC developed the following components of DRAFT:

  • Competitive bidding to represent clients in dependency cases. This bidding for three- to five-year contracts ensures a competitive price and results in cost stabilization over the period of the contract. Bids may come from private firms, nonprofits, government agencies, and panel organizations.
  • Caseload standards for attorneys in dependency cases. These standards were developed from a statewide workload study conducted in 2002.
  • Regional compensation standards. Under the old methods, each court determined compensation for court-appointed attorneys. Compensation was sometimes substandard, sometimes exorbitant. The new statewide standards rationalize compensation, allowing for regional differences in cost-of-living expenses.
  •  Attorney performance standards. Contracts with dependency counsel providers specify performance requirements. Attorney performance evaluations are conducted regularly by judicial officers, peers, and clients.
  •  Training and technical assistance. New practitioners go through a comprehensive initial training program, and a juvenile dependency website has been created that houses training materials, an in-court reference manual, sample motions and briefs, and a comprehensive repository of California dependency cases.

The DRAFT program also employs social services data to evaluate the impact of the program on permanency and well-being outcomes, including family reunification, guardianship, and placement.

In October 2007, the Judicial Council adopted a recommendation to expand the DRAFT program to include up to 10 additional courts. At that time, the “pilot” designation was also lifted from the program; DRAFT is now a permanent program. Currently, 20 court systems are participating in the program, and dependency cases under the jurisdiction of these 20 courts involve more than a third of the state’s juvenile dependency population.

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