OCA appoints attorney guardians ad litem (AGAL) to represent the best interests of children who are dependent, neglected, or abused, or at risk thereof as determined by a Family Court Judge, and involved in civil proceedings in Delaware’s Family Court.
OCA primarily appoints AGALs to children in the custody of the state’s Department of Services for Children, Youth & Their Families (DSCYF or the Children’s Department). However, under certain circumstances, OCA may also appoint AGALs to children who are the subject of private child welfare proceedings in Family Court, such as custody, termination of parental rights, or guardianship proceedings.
Making a Referral
OCA regularly receives referrals from biological parents, step-parents, relatives, schools, counselors and psychologists, medical professionals, and the Court system indicating that no one is looking out for an abused, neglected or dependent child's best interests, and that the child would benefit from his or her own independent legal representation.
If you would like to make a referral to OCA, please call 302-255-1730 and provide the following information:
- Child’s name and date of birth
- Parents’ names
- Pending Family Court proceedings, including hearing dates and judicial officers
- Family Court file number(s)
- Situation involving the child
- Your name and contact information
All referral sources and OCA records are confidential pursuant to 29 Del. C. § 9006A.
Once OCA receives a referral on a child, OCA will review records from the Delaware Children's Department and the Delaware Family Court. This process may take up to 6 weeks. Faxing copies of Family Court records in your possession along with other pertinent documentation may speed up the review process. After all compiled records are reviewed, the Program Administrator evaluates the risk factors in the case. These risk factors include but are not limited to the following: history of abuse/neglect/dependency, domestic violence in the home, drug/alcohol addictions, and mental health history. The Child Advocate then makes the final decision, based upon a recommendation, as to whether or not an attorney will be appointed for the child.
Appointment of AGAL
If OCA decides it is appropriate to appoint an attorney, OCA will file a motion with the Family Court requesting appointment of the AGAL. Once Family Court orders the appointment of the AGAL, the attorney becomes a party to the proceedings and has the authority to review all documents and interview all pertinent persons having significant information relating to the child and the child's life circumstances.
When an AGAL is Not Appointed
If the risk factors are low, or if there is no pending action in Family Court, OCA will generally not appoint an attorney. However, if there are child welfare system concerns, OCA will track these issues and has often brought safety issues/concerns to the Delaware Children's Department. OCA staff will also do their best to help callers find appropriate resources to meet the needs of children and families. Referents may feel free to call OCA again if the child's situation or Family Court involvement changes.
Calling OCA is not a substitute for reporting child abuse – if at any time you feel a child is dependent, neglected, or abused, or at risk thereof, you must call the Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-292-9582.