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Bill Number: 2945 Ratification Number: 485 Act Number 441 Introducing Body: House Subject: To create and provide for a guardian ad litem program
(A441, R485, H2945)
AN ACT TO AMEND THE CODE OF LAWS OF SOUTH CAROLINA, 1976, BY ADDING SUBARTICLE 4 TO ARTICLE 3, CHAPTER 7, TITLE 20 SO AS TO CREATE AND PROVIDE FOR A GUARDIAN AD LITEM PROGRAM FOR TRAINING AND SUPERVISION OF VOLUNTEERS SERVING AS COURT APPOINTED SPECIAL ADVOCATES FOR CHILDREN IN ABUSE AND NEGLECT PROCEEDINGS WITHIN THE FAMILY COURT AND TO PROVIDE FOR FUNDING OF THE PROGRAM; AND TO AMEND SECTION 20-7-690, RELATING TO THE CONFIDENTIALITY OF REPORTS AND RECORDS MAINTAINED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES, CHILD PROTECTIVE SERVICE AGENCIES, AND THE CENTRAL REGISTRY OF CHILD ABUSE AND NEGLECT, SO AS TO REVISE THE PROVISIONS AUTHORIZING THE REPORTS AND RECORDS TO BE MADE AVAILABLE.
Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of South Carolina:
SECTION 1. The purpose of this subarticle is to provide for a statewide system of trained volunteer guardians ad litem to ensure that children who are abused or neglected have their best interests represented in those actions before the family court.
South Carolina Guardian ad Litem Program
SECTION 2. Article 3 of Chapter 7 of Title 20 of the 1976 Code is amended by adding:
South Carolina Guardian ad Litem Program
Section 20-7-121. There is created the South Carolina Guardian ad Litem Program to serve as a statewide system to provide training and supervision to volunteers who serve as court appointed special advocates for children in abuse and neglect proceedings within the family court, pursuant to Section 20-7-110.
Section 20-7-122. The responsibilities and duties of the guardian ad litem are:
(1) to represent the best interests of the child;
(2) to advocate for the welfare and rights of a child involved in an abuse or neglect proceeding;
(3) to conduct an independent assessment of the facts, the needs of the child, and the available resources within the family and community to meet those needs;
(4) to maintain accurate, written case records;
(5) to provide the family court with a written report, consistent with the rules of evidence and the rules of the court, which includes without limitation evaluation and assessment of the issues brought before the court and recommendations for the case plan, the wishes of the child, if appropriate, and subsequent disposition of the case;
(6) to monitor compliance with the orders of the family court and to make the motions necessary to enforce the orders of the court or seek judicial review;
(7) to protect and promote the best interests of the child until formally relieved of the responsibility by the family court.
Section 20-7-123. No person may be appointed as a guardian ad litem for a child in an abuse or neglect proceeding who has been convicted of any crime listed in Chapter 3 of Title 16, Offenses Against the Person, in Chapter 15 of Title 16, Offenses Against Morality and Decency, in Article 3 of Chapter 53 of Title 44, Narcotics and Controlled Substances, or for the crime of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, provided for in Section 16-17-490.
Section 20-7-124. (A) The guardian ad litem is charged in general with the duty of representation of the child's best interests. After appointment by the family court to a case involving an abused or neglected child, the guardian ad litem shall receive appropriate notice of all court hearings and proceedings regarding the child. The obligation of the guardian ad litem to the court is a continuing one and continues until formally relieved by the court.
(B) The guardian ad litem is authorized to:
(1) conduct an independent assessment of the facts;
(2) confer with and observe the child involved;
(3) interview persons involved in the case;
(4) participate on any multidisciplinary evaluation team for the case on which the guardian ad litem has been appointed;
(5) make recommendations to the court concerning the child's welfare;
(6) make motions necessary to enforce the orders of the court, seek judicial review, or petition the court for relief on behalf of the child.
(C) The guardian ad litem is authorized through counsel to introduce, examine, and cross-examine witnesses in any proceeding involving the child and participate in the proceedings to any degree necessary to represent the child adequately.
Section 20-7-125. All reports made and information collected as described in Section 20-7-690(A) must be made available to the guardian ad litem by the State Department of Social Services. Upon proof of appointment as guardian ad litem and upon his request, access to information must be made available to him by the appropriate medical and dental authorities, psychologists, social workers, counselors, schools, and any agency providing services to the child.
Section 20-7-126. All reports and information collected pursuant to this subarticle maintained by the Guardian ad Litem Program are confidential except as provided for in 20-7-690(C). Any person who disseminates or permits the unauthorized dissemination of the information is guilty of contempt of court and, upon conviction, may be fined or imprisoned, or both, pursuant to Section 20-7-1350.
The name, address, and other identifying characteristics of any person named in a report determined to be judicially unfounded must be destroyed one year from the date of the determination. The name, address, and other identifying characteristics of any person named in a report determined to be judicially indicated must be destroyed seven years from the date that the guardian ad litem formally is relieved of his responsibility by the family court.
Section 20-7-127. After participating in the training program of the Guardian ad Litem Program, any person who is appointed to serve as guardian ad litem and serves without compensation is not liable for any civil damages for any personal injury as a result of any act or omission by the person in the discharge of the responsibilities of a guardian ad litem if he acts in good faith and is not guilty of gross negligence.
Section 20-7-128. (A) There is created the South Carolina Guardian ad Litem Program Advisory Board consisting of nine members as follows:
(1) the chairman of the Joint Legislative Committee on Children, or his designee;
(2) the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, or his designee;
(3) the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, or his designee;
(4) the State Commissioner of Social Services, or his designee;
(5) the President of the State Council of Family Court Judges, or his designee;
(6) the Director of the Division of Court Administration, or his designee;
(7) two Family Court Judges appointed by the Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court;
(8) a private attorney who practices family or domestic law appointed by the Chairman of the Joint Legislative Committee on Children.
(B) The terms of the members are coterminous with their terms of office or with their positions except for the private attorney. The term of the attorney is for two years.
(C) The Chairman of the Joint Legislative Committee on Children shall serve as chairman of the board. The board shall meet at least four times annually and more frequently upon the call of the chairman to review and evaluate the activities of the Guardian ad Litem Program."
Availability to child's guardian ad litem and attorney of reports and records relating to children
SECTION 3. Section 20-7-690(B) of the 1976 Code is amended to read:
"(B) All reports made and information collected as described in subsection (A) must be made available to the ombudsman of the office of the Governor and to any person appointed as a child's guardian ad litem and the child's attorney pursuant to Section 20-7-110."
Reports and records available to child's guardian ad litem and attorney deleted
SECTION 4. Section 20-7-690 of the 1976 Code is amended by deleting item (5) of subsection (C).
SECTION 5. The General Assembly shall provide the funds necessary to carry out the provisions of this act. Until the program has been implemented in each county as a part of the statewide system, the program must be administered by the University of South Carolina TRIO Programs through a contract with the Joint Legislative Committee on Children.
SECTION 6. This act takes effect upon approval by the Governor.