Children cannot make most legal decisions, under the law. They do not possess what is called "capacity." However, many legal issues have a very powerful effect on children, and the interests of the child must be represented during legal proceedings on these issues. In these instances, an attorney, often appointed by the court, can represent the interests of the child. If the appointment is for one legal action, the attorney is called a "guardian ad litem."
Often, these matters could be in family court, or under family law. If a parent is unfit, a lawyer can represent the child's interests in seeking to terminate parental rights. Lawyers may also represent children in foster care, adoption cases or custody disputes in which the state is an actor. They may also represent children in child abuse and delinquency issues.
Child welfare lawyers represent the best interests of children in such settings and on these types of legal matters.
The National Association of Counsel for Children is accredited by the American Bar Association to certify lawyers as Child Welfare Law Specialists (CWLS). To become a CWLS, the lawyer must show that he or she has practiced law for more than three years, has devoted more than 30 percent of his or her time to child welfare law, completed at least 36 hours of continuing legal education on child welfare law and has submitted a writing sample.