Have you ever wondered who represents the best interest of youth in the court process? Did you think it was the role of the caseworker? Have you felt you had information that the judge should know regarding a child you are caring for, but did not know how to get that information to the courtroom?
Every child in the protective custody of the State of Maine is assigned a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) upon entering the State’s custody. The GAL’s role is to present to the judge the wishes of the child and what the GAL believes to be in the child’s best interest. The GAL determines “best interest” based on interviews with the child and others involved with the child’s life. A GAL can be a lay person who has been trained to be a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for the child, or an attorney. At the time a child is placed with you the caseworker placing the child should include the name, address, and telephone number, of the GAL assigned for the child on the confidential information sheet. That information sheet will include such things as the child’s name, parent’s names, significant child history, etc. Be sure you request this information at the time of placement if it is not offered to you.
Most GALs, like all of us in public service, have busy lives apart from the role of GAL. Public law requires that the GAL must meet face to face with the child within 7 days of the assignment and once every 120 days thereafter. If you do not hear from the GAL in the required time, take the initiative to call or write to them. Share some times that you could schedule a visit between the child and the GAL. Once you have agreed upon a time and place for the visit, assuming that the child is comfortable in doing so, allow the GAL to be alone with the child. Some children may need help feeling comfortable with the GAL before being left in a private visit.
Here are some things that you can provide to the GAL that will be helpful as the GAL prepares to represent the child:
- Keep careful notes on the child’s behaviors (of special importance will be reactions to visits and any disclosures the child has made to you.) The child’s caseworker much be informed of disclosures as well.
- Provide photographs, especially ones depicting the child’s successes. Make the child real to the GAL.
- Provide school report cards, evaluations, and share your daily log.
- Remember to share endearing or profound comments shared with you by the child.
- Invite the GAL to parties, school events, and team meetings.
- Remember to share your concerns and insights about the child on a regular basis. You know the child better than anyone else at this time.
- Share medical records or any health needs.
You have the awesome role of caring for a child and as such, you become the child’s advocate. Do not be shy in voicing to the GAL what you feel are the child’s strengths and challenges. You will be invited to the court for hearings/judicial reviews pertaining to your foster or pre-adopted child. Ask the GAL to assist you in your preparation. If you want specific information to reach the judge, be sure to let the GAL know in advance of the hearing.
If you have questions regarding the role of Guardian Ad Litem that have not been addresses in this article, please contact AFFM. We will do our best to find answers for you.