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B. Dependency

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  • 10th Circuit

    The Supreme Court has not recognized a right of access to juvenile dependency proceedings or records, and in “abuse, neglect, dependency, and custody matters . . . courts have hesitated to extend a First-Amendment-based right of access.” Dienes, Levine & Lind, Newsgathering and the Law § 7.01[2] (3d Ed. 2005) (collecting cases).

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  • 2nd Circuit

    Given that the Supreme Court has not recognized a right of access to juvenile dependency proceedings or records, the confidentiality of proceedings involving minors varies from state to state. In the Second Circuit, the Court has upheld New York State statutes providing for the confidentiality of public agency records pertaining to abandoned, delinquent, destitute, neglected or adopted children. Alma Soc. Inc. v. Mellon, 601 F.2d 1225, 1229 (2d Cir. 1979).

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  • 5th Circuit

    Nothing found specific to the Fifth Circuit.

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  • 8th Circuit

    There appears to be no Eighth Circuit case law discussing dependency.

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  • Alabama

    Alabama law allows the parties, their counsel, witnesses, and other persons requested by a party to be admitted to dependency hearings. Ala. Code § 12-15-129 (2019). Other persons as the juvenile court finds to have a “proper interest” in the case or in the work of the juvenile court may be admitted by the juvenile court on condition that the persons refrain from divulging any information which would identify the child under the jurisdiction of the juvenile court or family involved. Id. The general public is specifically excluded from dependency hearings. Id.

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  • Arizona

    Court proceedings “relating to dependent children, permanent guardianships and termination of parental rights are open to the public.  A court proceeding relating to child abuse, abandonment or neglect that has resulted in a fatality or near fatality is open to the public, subject to the requirements of (E) of this rule and A.R.S. § 8-807.01.”  Ariz. R. Juv. Ct. 41(A).

    During the first hearing in a dependency, permanent guardianship or termination of parental rights, the court “shall ask the parties if there are any reasons the proceedings should be closed.”  The court must evaluate:

    1. Whether doing so is in the child’s best interests.
    2. Whether an open proceeding would endanger the child’s physical or emotional well-being or the safety of any other person.
    3. The privacy rights of the child, the child’s siblings, parents, guardians and caregivers and any other person whose privacy rights the court determines need protection.
    4. Whether all parties have agreed to allow the proceeding to be open.
    5. If the child is at least twelve years of age and a party to the proceeding, the child’s wishes.
    6. Whether an open proceeding could case specific material harm to a criminal investigation.

    Ariz. R. Juv. Ct. 41(E).  Anyone who attends a hearing involving a minor is prohibited from disclosing personally identifiable information about the minor outside of the proceedings.  Ariz. R. Juv. Ct. 41(F).  Failure to abide by this rule shall be deemed contempt of court.  Id. 

    If a proceeding has been closed to the public, an interested party may ask the court to reconsider its decision and open the proceedings.  Ariz. R. Juv. Ct. 41(H).

    Pursuant to Arizona Supreme Court 123(d)(1)(B), “[r]ecords of all juvenile adoption, dependency, severance and other related proceedings are closed to the public as provided by law unless opened by court order.”

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  • California

    Under Welfare & Institutions Code § 346, dependency hearings generally are closed to the public, with two exceptions: (1) when a parent or guardian requests an open hearing and the minor consents; or (2) when the court exercises its discretion to admit persons it “deems to have a direct and legitimate interest in the particular case or the work of the court.” The Legislature adopted the qualified right of access to encourage press coverage of juvenile proceedings. See Brian W. v. Superior Court, 20 Cal. 3d 618, 623, 574 P.2d 788, 143 Cal. Rptr. 717 (1978). “[P]roceedings are private until such time as the judge or referee exercises its discretion to admit a member of the public.” In re A.L., 224 Cal. App. 4th 354, 367, 168 Cal. Rptr. 3d 589 (2014).

    Members of the press or public must “seek admission to the presumptively private hearing from the judge or referee, who exercises his or her discretion, balancing the competing interests, based on the unique facts of the case.” In re A.L., 224 Cal. App. 4th at 368. Courts “may properly consider such factors as the age of each child, the nature of the allegations, the extent of the present and/or expected publicity and its effect, if any, on the children and on family reunification.” San Bernardino County Dep’t of Public Social Servs. v. Superior Court, 232 Cal. App. 3d 188, 207, 283 Cal. Rptr. 332 (1991).

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  • Colorado

    The Colorado Judicial Department’s Public Access to Court Records policy (pdf) excludes from public access all dependency and neglect court records, unless the court orders otherwise.  (See Section 4.60(b)(2).)

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  • Florida

    Adjudicatory hearings involving custody and permanent placement of children and other dependency proceedings are presumed open, except upon special order of the presiding judge. Fla. Stat. § 39.507(2). The special order provision allows the presiding judge to close the hearing upon a determination that the public interest or the welfare of the child is served best by a closed proceeding. Id.

    However, adjudicatory hearings involving termination of parental rights are automatically confidential under Section 39.809(4), Florida Statutes. Natural Parents of J.B. v. Dep’t of Children and Family Servs., 780 So. 2d 6 (Fla. 2001); see also Dep’t of Children & Family Servs. v. Carter, 851 So. 2d 197, 199 (Fla. 5th DCA 2003) (stating in dicta that “it seems intuitively clear that proceedings for the termination of parental rights are substantially more intrusive than dependency actions”).

    Termination of parental rights and dependency records are closed, except to those deemed by the court as showing a proper interest. Fla. Stat. §§ 39.0132(3), 39.814(3); see also Fla. R. Jud. Admin 2.420(d)(1)(B)(i) (noting that clerks must automatically seal dependency records). On certain occasions, the public may show such a proper interest. Often requests for access to such closed files overlap with requests for access to the confidential files of the Department of Children and Families (“DCF”) that may not have been filed with the court. The test for showing a “proper interest” is therefore similar to the good cause standard for access to DCF’s records. See Fla. Stat. 39.2021 (balancing need for oversight of the court or DCF with the privacy and best interests of the child). For example, in Department of Health & Rehabilitative Services v. In the Interest of A.N., 604 So. 2d 11, 11 (Fla. 3d DCA 1992) (per curiam), the appellate court upheld a circuit judge’s decision to disclose the full court record despite the confidentiality provisions. Noting that the guardian ad litem had supported waiver of the confidentiality provision, the court stated:

    [W]e conclude that the circuit court was acting within its discretionary powers when it determined that disclosure of the full record would best correct any speculation, rumor or innuendo circulating about the instant family and that disclosure was in the best interest of the dependent children.

    Id. (citations omitted). Similar reasoning was employed by a trial court judge in Hillsborough County, Florida, who found that disclosure of portions of the child’s court record was in the best interest of the dependent child. In the Interest of E.S., No. 89741, Div. C (Fla. Cir. Ct. Jan. 29, 1997).

    Public interest may be found where the need for citizens to have information to adequately evaluate the actions of the department and the court system in protecting children under Section 39.001, Florida Statutes. F.S. 39.2021(1); see In re Records of Dept. of Children & Family Services, 873 So.2d 506 (Fla. 2d DCA 2004). A trial court judge in Lake County found that release of a dependency court file was in the public interest. In re Interest of R.S., J.C., No. 2002-DP-0286-GS (Fla. Cir. Ct. March 9, 2004).

    Additionally, the media may be permitted access to termination of parental rights and dependency records for the compilation of statistics or other quantitative data. See Fla. Stat. §§ 39.0132(3), 39.814(3). In such situations, the court may impose certain conditions “upon their use and disposition” as the court deems proper and may “punish by contempt proceedings any violation of those conditions.” See Op. Att’y Gen. Fla. 91-32 (1991) (allowing The Tampa Tribune access to juvenile dependency court statistics for research purposes). Often, identifying information is redacted.

    Further, Section 28.2221, Florida Statutes, provides that the Clerk may not place an image or copy of a court file, record, or paper relating to matters or cases arising under the Rules of Juvenile Procedure on a publicly available website for general public display.

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  • Georgia

    Georgia’s juvenile code affords a presumptive statutory right of public access to dependency proceedings, O.C.G.A. § 15-11-700, and records, O.C.G.A. § 15-11-704(b).

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  • Idaho

    All court records of Child Protective Act proceedings are exempt from disclosure.  I.C.A.R. 32(g)(9)(A); see also I.C. § 16-1626 (court records of Child Protective Act proceedings “shall be available only to parties to the proceeding, persons having full or partial custody of the subject child and authorized agencies providing protective supervision or having legal custody of the child. Any other person may have access to the records only upon permission by the court and then only if it is shown that such access is in the best interests of the child; or for the purpose of legitimate research. If the records are released for research purposes, the person receiving them must agree not to disclose any information which could lead to the identification of the child.”).  In addition, all proceedings under the Child Protective Act are closed to the public.  I.C. § 16-1613(1) (“Proceedings under this chapter shall be dealt with by the court at hearings separate from those for adults and without a jury. The hearings shall be conducted in an informal manner and may be adjourned from time to time. The general public shall be excluded, and only such persons shall be admitted as are found by the court to have a direct interest in the case. The child may be excluded from hearings at any time at the discretion of the court. If the parent or guardian is without counsel, the court shall inform them of their right to be represented by counsel and to appeal from any disposition or order of the court.”).

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  • Indiana

    The juvenile court determines whether juvenile proceedings are closed to the public, Ind. Code § 31-32-6-2, and the general rule is that all juvenile court records are confidential, except as provided under Indiana Code Chapter 31-39-2. Ind. Code § 31-39-1-2. For cases analyzing public access to Child in Need of Services (“CHINS”) proceedings and records, see In re TB, 895 N.E.2d 321, 342–43 (Ind. App. 2008) (holding that the juvenile court could grant a newspaper access to CHINS records) and In re KB, 894 N.E.2d 1013, 1017 (2008) (holding that the trial court could not grant media access to CHINS records).

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  • Iowa

    In Iowa, at any time during proceedings involving juveniles, the court may “exclude the public from hearings if the court determines that the possibility of damage or harm to the child outweighs the public’s interest in having an open hearing.” Iowa Code § 232.39 (2018).

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  • Kansas

    Kansas statutes define a “child in need of care” as a person under 18 years of age who is “without adequate parental care, control or subsistence,” has been abused or abandoned or is otherwise at risk in specified ways.  See K.S.A. 38-2202.  The statutes provide for confidentiality of records related to a child in need of care.  For example, in K.S.A. 38-2209,pleadings, process, service of process, orders, writs and journal entries reflecting hearings held and judgments and decrees entered by the court” are contained in an “official file,” which is categorized as confidential.  The statute requires that the official file “shall be kept separate from other records of the court.”  Access to child-in-need-of-care files is limited to persons listed in K.S.A. 38-2211, although a court may authorize conditional access by “[a]ny other person.”  According to K.S.A. 38-2212(b) and (c), officials involved in child-of-care cases may exchange information that is “reasonably necessary to carry out their lawful responsibilities, to maintain their personal safety and the personal safety of individuals in their care, or to educate, diagnose, treat, care for or protect a child alleged to be in need of care.”  However, under K.S.A. 38-2212(d)(3):

    Information from confidential reports or records of a child alleged or adjudicated to be a child in need of care may be disclosed to the public when:

    (A) The individuals involved or their representatives have given express written consent; or

    (B) the investigation of the abuse or neglect of the child or the filing of a petition alleging a child to be in need of care has become public knowledge, provided, however, that the agency shall limit disclosure to confirmation of procedural details relating to the handling of the case by professionals.

    Also, K.S.A. 38-2212(e) provides that, after in camera inspection, a court may order disclosure of certain confidential records “pursuant to a determination that the disclosure is in the best interests of the child who is the subject of the reports or that the records are necessary for the proceedings of the court.  The court shall specify the terms of disclosure and impose appropriate limitations.”  In addition, K.S.A. 38-2212(f) (1) provides that, under certain conditions, if child abuse or neglect results in a child fatality or near fatality, child-in-need-of care records become public.

    In general, adjudicatory proceedings related to a child-of-care case are open.  K.S.A. 38-2247 allows “attendance by any person unless the court determines that closed proceedings or the exclusion of that person would be in the best interests of the child or is necessary to protect the privacy rights of the parents.”  K.S.A. 38-2247(a)(2) specifies that members of the news media who attend an adjudicatory proceeding must comply with Kansas Supreme Court Rule 1001 regarding use of cameras in courtrooms.  See Kan. Sup. Ct. R. 1001, Media Coverage of Judicial Proceedings, http://www.kscourts.org/rules/Media_Coverage/Rule%201001.pdf.

    However, under K.S.A. 38-2247(b), a proceeding that pertains specifically “to the disposition of a child adjudicated to be in need of care” must be closed except to “the parties, the guardian ad litem, interested parties and their attorneys, officers of the court, a court appointed special advocate and the custodian.”  Additional persons may attend if a court determines that their presence during the proceeding “would be in the best interests of the child or the conduct of the proceedings.” K.S.A. 38-2247(b)(1).

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  • Kentucky

    In Kentucky, hearings and records in juvenile dependency, abuse and neglect cases are presumptively closed.  See KRS 610.070 & KRS 610.340.  Under KRS 610.340(1)(a), a juvenile court may allow juvenile court records to be disclosed “for good cause.”

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  • Louisiana

    Dependency hearings are confidential. Article 407 of the Louisiana Children’s Code states: “With the exceptions of delinquency proceedings . . . child support proceedings, traffic violations . . . and misdemeanor trials of adults . . . proceedings before the juvenile court shall not be public.”

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  • Maine

    All child protection proceedings are closed to the public, unless the court orders otherwise. 22 M.R.S.A. § 4007(1). “The statute clearly states that the presumption is that proceedings will be closed absent extraordinary circumstances.” In re. Bailey M., 2002 ME 12, ¶ 15, 788 A.2d 590. In Bailey M., the court identified other provisions in Maine and federal law that provide for confidentiality in child protection proceedings. Id. ¶ 16. (citing 22 M.R.S.A. § 4008(3), and 42 U.S.C. § 5106a(b)(4)).

    In custody proceedings, referred to in Maine as proceedings to determine parental rights and responsibilities, “at the request of either party, personally or through that party’s attorney, unless the other party who has entered an appearance objects personally or through the other party’s attorney, the court shall exclude the public from the court proceedings.” 19-A M.R.S.A. § 1656. “If the court orders that the public is to be excluded, only the parties, their attorneys, court officers and witnesses may be present.” Id.

    Psychiatric and child custody reports are impounded and may be released only to the parties, pursuant to court order, or if used in evidence. Administrative Order JB-05-20, “Public Information and Confidentiality” § II(H)(5).

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  • Maryland

    Under the Maryland Rules, judicial records concerning adoption, guardianship, and “child in need of assistance” (i.e., abuse) cases are presumptively closed to the public. Md. Rule 16-907(a)(1)–(2); see also, e.g., Md. Code Ann., Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 3-827(a)(1) (court records pertaining to cases concerning “children in need of assistance” “shall be confidential and their contents may not be divulged, by subpoena or otherwise, except by order of the court on good cause shown”).

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  • Massachusetts

    Child welfare proceedings, except for those involving court orders to not resuscitate or to withdraw life support from a child in the custody of Department of Children and Families, are closed to the public. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 119, § 38; accord In re Care & Prot. of Sharlene, 840 N.E.2d 918, 930 (Mass. 2006).

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  • Minnesota

    Under Minnesota statutes, “absent exceptional circumstances,” court hearings relating to the termination of parental rights and various other child protection matters are open to the public. Minn. Stat. § 260C.163, subd. 1(c). The records from these proceedings are also available for public inspection pursuant to the Minnesota Rules of Juvenile Protection Procedure. Minn. Stat. § 260C.171, subd. 2. Custody hearings are generally open to the public, but the court may close the hearings if it finds that “a public hearing may be detrimental to the child’s best interests.” Minn. Stat. § 518.168. Further, the court may seal any portion of the record in custody proceedings if it finds that doing so is necessary “for the protection of the child’s welfare.” Id.

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  • Nebraska

    In juvenile dependency proceedings pursuant to Neb. Rev. Stat. § 43-247(3)(a) (Reissue 2016), pleadings, orders, and decrees and judgments are public documents, but medical, psychiatric, and social welfare reports and the records of juvenile probation officers as they relate to individual proceedings in juvenile court are confidential. Neb. Rev. Stat. § 43-2,108 (Reissue 2016).

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  • Nevada

    Dependency proceedings are generally open, but closure is permitted in certain circumstances, so long as the judge makes specific findings and determines that such closure is in the best interests of the child involved in the proceedings.  See NRS § 432B.430.

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  • New Hampshire

    Dependency proceedings – “Services for Children, Youth and Families” – are confidential by statute. See N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 170-G:8-a.

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  • New Mexico

    In New Mexico, all abuse and neglect hearings are closed to the general public. NMSA 1978, § 32A-4-20. Accredited representatives of the news media may be present at closed hearings, conditioned on them refraining from divulging information that would identify any child involved in the proceedings or the parent, guardian or custodian of that child. Id. This confidentiality duty survives despite extensive pre-hearing media coverage; thus, if the representatives cannot avoid divulging information that would identify the child, parent, guardian, or custodian, they enjoy no statutory right of access. Albuquerque Journal v. Jewell, 2001-NMSC-005, ¶ 4, 130 N.M. 64, 66, 17 P.3d 437, 439.

    A child subject to an abuse and neglect proceeding that is present at a hearing may object to the presence of the media. NMSA 1978, § 32A-4-20. Further, the court may exclude the media if it finds that the presence of the media is contrary to the best interests of the child. Id. Absent a statutory right of access to the courtroom, it is within the trial court’s discretion under Section 32A-4-20(D) to decide whether to allow the media to attend proceedings. Albuquerque Journal, 2001-NMSC-005, ¶ 5, 130 N.M. at 65. The trial court judge exercises great discretion in this matter. See id.

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  • North Dakota

    Juvenile proceedings are closed under N.D.C.C. § 27-20-51.  However, general information not identifying any juvenile, witness, or victim can be requested and released under N.D.C.C. § 27-20-51(7).

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  • Pennsylvania

    Although “juvenile proceedings have traditionally been closed to the public in most jurisdictions,” the Pennsylvania Superior Court has held that the “constitutional presumption of openness applies to juvenile dependency matters.” In re M.B., 819 A.2d 59, 61 (Pa. Super. 2003). Nevertheless, Pennsylvania has a statute that provides detailed rules on when juvenile hearings and records may be closed, and, under that statute, dependency proceedings are generally closed. See 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 6336. In accordance with this statute, the Pennsylvania Superior Court has held that a juvenile dependency matter may be closed where the state can establish a compelling interest in protecting the privacy of the children involved, and no less restrictive means other than total closure are available. In re M.B., 819 A.2d at 66 (holding that dependency proceeding was properly closed even though identities of minors were publicized previously).

    In addition, the Public Access Policy of the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania: Case Records of the Appellate and Trial Courts; No. 477 Judicial Administration requires that certain information in judicial filings concerning minors be kept confidential. Such information includes a minor’s name, date of birth, and educational records. See 204 Pa. Code § 213.81.

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  • South Dakota

    Dependency hearings are closed “unless the court finds compelling reasons to require otherwise.” S.D. Codified Laws § 26-7A-36.

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  • Utah

    “In abuse, neglect, and dependency cases, the court shall admit any person to a hearing . . . unless the court makes a finding upon the record that the person’s presence at the hearing would: (A) be detrimental to the best interest of a child who is a party to the proceeding; (B) impair the fact-finding process; or (C) be otherwise contrary to the interests of justice.”  Utah Code § 78A-6-114(1)(a)(i).

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  • Vermont

    In Vermont, all juvenile court proceedings are confidential.  See 33 V.S.A. § 5110(a); see also In re J. S., 140 Vt. 458, 464, 438 A.2d 1125, 1127 (Vt. 1981) (“Far from a tradition of openness, juvenile proceedings are almost invariably closed.”).  Juvenile court proceedings include both delinquency proceedings and dependency proceedings (known as “Child in need of supervision (CHINS)” proceedings).  See 33 V.S.A. § 5102(3).  Thus, the public does not have access to juvenile court files or juvenile court hearings.  See 33 V.S.A. § 5110(b); 33 V.S.A. § 5117(a); Vt. Pub. Acc. Ct. Rec. Rule 6(4) (providing an exception under the Vermont Rules for Public Access to Court Records for “records of the family court in juvenile proceedings”).

    In Vermont, guardianships are handled in probate court, rather than family court.  “When a hearing involves the appointment of a guardian for a minor, the court, on motion of a party or its own motion, may exclude any person other than the parties, their counsel, or witnesses and other persons accompanying a party to assist that party.”  V.R.P.P. Rule 77.

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  • Virginia

    In any child or spousal support case appealed from the juvenile domestic relations (“JDR”) court to the circuit court, the case files shall be open for inspection only as provided by Virginia Code § 16.1-305.01. See Va. Code § 16.1-302(A).  Section 16.1-305.01 limits access to the court and its staff; the parties and their counsel of record; the Department of Social Services and the Division of Child Support Enforcement; and by order of the court, any other person, agency or institution “having a legitimate interest in such case files or the work of the court.” See Va. Code § 16.1-305.01.

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  • Washington

    Under RCW 13.34.110 and 13.50, juvenile dependency proceedings and records are confidential. Appellate proceedings are not governed by these statutes and may only be closed if compelling circumstances are present.  See In re: J.B.S., 856 P.2d 694 (1993).

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  • West Virginia

    West Virginia has juvenile drug courts that divert non-violent juvenile offenders with alcohol or substance abuse behavior to intensive, individualized rehabilitation and treatment. Juvenile drug courts replace or work in coordination with formal juvenile proceedings. W.Va. Code § 49-4-703. These proceedings and records are not public, just like other juvenile records. W. Va. Juvenile Law & Procedure, http://www.courtswv.gov/public-resources/CAN/juvenile-law-procedure/juvenile-law-procedure.html.

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  • Wisconsin

    See Wis. Stat. § 48.299(1):

    (a) The general public shall be excluded from hearings under this chapter and from hearings by courts exercising jurisdiction under s. 48.16 [petitions for waiver of parental consent to a minor’s abortion] unless a public fact-finding hearing is demanded by a child through his or her counsel, by an expectant mother through her counsel, or by an unborn child’s guardian ad litem. However, the court shall refuse to grant the public hearing in a proceeding other than a proceeding under s. 48.375(7) [parental consent required prior to abortion], if a parent, guardian, expectant mother, or unborn child’s guardian ad litem objects.

    (ag)      In a proceeding other than a proceeding under s. 48.375(7), if a public hearing is not held, only the parties and their counsel or guardian ad litem, the court-appointed special advocate for the child, the child’s foster parent or other physical custodian described in s. 48.62(2), witnesses, and other persons requested by a party and approved by the court may be present, …. Except in a proceeding under s. 48.375(7), any other person the court finds to have a proper interest in the case or in the work of the court, including a member of the bar or a person engaged in the bona fide research, monitoring, or evaluation of activities conducted under 42 USC 629h, as determined by the director of state courts, may be admitted by the court.

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