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GAL Frequently Asked Questions
Q. What does the term “guardian ad litem” mean?
A. It’s a legal term meaning guardian for the lawsuit. A guardian ad litem is not the same as a legal guardian. The guardian ad litem has no control over the person or property of the child and does not provide a home for the child.
Q. Will I be charged a fee for Guardian ad Litem services?
A. Fees are usually assessed in family court cases. Please see GALs and Family Court.
Q. How is the Guardian ad Litem different from a social worker?
A. The social worker represents the Ramsey County Community Human Services Department, which has legal custody of the child or children involved. RCCHSD is concerned with ensuring the safety of the child(ren), and is charged with finding a permanent caregiver for the child, whether it is the parent(s), other relatives, foster care, adoption, or some other safe placement. Guardians ad Litem focus entirely on the child, advocating for special services, investigating community resources, and being the child’s voice in court.
Q. What types of cases require a Guardian ad Litem?
A. Juvenile case and family cases.
Q. How long does a case in the system last?
A. There is no clear-cut answer to this question. Some cases may end within the first six weeks of your appointment. Others may linger in the system for more than eighteen months, depending upon the complexity of the case and the progress of the family toward treatment objectives. The average case probably lasts between twelve and eighteen months, during which time the GAL will continue in its role until formally relieved by the court.
Occasionally, it may become clear that the family involved will never be able to make the changes necessary to provide a safe and nurturing environment for the child. In such cases, the Department of Social Services may be forced to pursue a legal termination of the parties' parental rights to the child. This reality can be very difficult for the child, and you will play an important role in assuring that resources for adoption are thoroughly researched and timely pursued. The GAL may find it desirable or necessary to actively advocate for the joint placement of close siblings, or consideration of the child's current foster home as a permanent placement.
Q. How can a Guardian ad Litem really make a difference in the life of a child?
A. Children who have been victimized within their home or family environment deserve to have the strongest advocacy and protection available to them. As a volunteer who has been trained regarding abuse and neglect, family dynamics, and community resources, the GAL is the most effective voice for a child in court. With the support of local Coordinator and court-appointed attorney, the GAL can be a critical and decisive factor in whether or not that child's voice is adequately represented in court.
The majority of volunteers with the Program express tremendous satisfaction about their role as a GAL. They realize that they are making a difference in the lives of children, one child at a time.
The service that is provided by volunteer Guardians ad Litem cannot be underestimated. The GAL is an invaluable asset to a child, and play a critical role within the court process. By serving in this manner, the GAL's efforts are greatly appreciated by the child represented, the community in which the GAL lives, and the judge in whose hands decisions are ultimately made.
Q. What is a guardian ad litem supposed to do?
A. A guardian ad litem represents the best interests of the child during court proceedings. This includes making sure the judge is told:
what has happened to the child
what the child needs to be safe
what services need to be ordered for the child/family
what decisions the judge can make to help the child
In developing recommendations for the court, the guardian ad litem reads files and court documents; meets with the child; interviews people who have important information about the child’s situation (this includes the child’s parents); and works with the other professionals involved in the case.
Q. What is "Best Interest"?
A. Juvenile court judges use the -- best interest of the child" standard when making their decisions in child abuse and neglect cases. Child welfare and juvenile court practitioners and scholars have debated the meaning of "best interest of the child" for years. Books have been written on the subject; however, there is still no concise legal definition for this standard. However, physical safety, emotional well-being, permanent placement in a stable and nurturing home environment that fosters the child's healthy growth and development are all factors to be considered by the Guardian ad Litem.
Q. How does a guardian ad litem decide what recommendations to make as best for the child?
A. The guardian ad litem talks with everyone who knows a lot about the child. This includes the child, the parents, relatives, foster parents, teachers, social workers, psychologists, doctors and others with important information. The guardian ad litem reads the reports written about the child/family. Sometimes, the guardian ad litem will ask other professionals to help them learn about the child’s needs. The guardian ad litem visits where the child lives and wherever the child might go to live. The guardian ad litem also learns about the services available for the child and family.
Q. Why does a child need a guardian ad litem?
A. Whenever a judge has to make decisions about what will happen to a child, the child may need a guardian ad litem. If there are allegation of abuse or neglect by the child’s parents, the child’s interests and the parents’ interests may be in conflict.
Q. Does every child have a guardian ad litem?
A. No. The case has to be involved in court and meet the requirements of the law for the appointment of a guardian ad litem. Anyone can ask the judge (either in court or by letter) to appoint a guardian ad litem for a child.
Q. Does a guardian ad litem always ask the judge to do what the child wants?
A. No. The guardian ad litem should always listen to the child, and may report to the judge what the child wants. In all cases, guardians ad litem must make their own recommendations to the Judge as to what they believe will be best for the child, based on all of the information they have gathered. These recommendations may or may not be what the child wants.
Q. Is the guardian ad litem allowed to make decisions at court hearings?
A. No. The judge makes decisions after listening carefully to everyone who took part in the court hearing. Like the other people in the case, the guardian ad litem can only make suggestions/recommendations about what should happen.
Q. Does the guardian ad litem go to court?
A. Yes. The guardian ad litem is expected to attend every court hearing and in some cases may be a witness. The guardian ad litem makes written and oral reports and recommendations to the court.
A. Does the child have to go to court, too?
A. Usually not--especially if the child is under age 12. If a child is 12 or older, he or she has the right to have a lawyer and participate in all the hearings. The guardian ad litem should find out how the child feels about being in court and whether they think it is in the child’s best interest to be present at the court hearings.
Q. How do I get a Guardian ad Litem?
A. Guardians ad Litem from our program are appointed by the court in Juvenile and Family Court cases when their are allegations of abuse and neglect. You may ask the court to appoint a GAL in a case in court, and the Judge will make a determination as to whether the appointment is appropriate or not. They then send an order to our program and we assign a GAL. We do not assign a GAL to any child without being ordered to do so by the court.
Q. Who can be a guardian ad litem?
A. There are a variety of models in use in Minnesota courts for providing guardian ad litem services. In Second Judicial District/Ramsey County Courts, guardians ad litem are primarily volunteers—adults with a strong concern about the abused and neglected children in our community. In other parts of the country, this model for providing guardian ad litem services through volunteers is called CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates). Prospective volunteers complete a written application. The screening process also includes a personal interview, written references, a background and criminal record check, and pre-service training. Once you become a guardian ad litem, on-going case consultation, support and supervision are provided by the program.
Q. How much time must a GAL commit as a Volunteer Guardian ad Litem?
A. AS A GUARDIAN AD LITEM, you should be willing to make a commitment to: Complete Pre-service training; Attend 8 hours of In-service/continuing education annually;Serve at least 18 months.
Q. What are the causes for dismissal from the volunteer staff?
A. Failure to complete Pre-service training; Failure to attend at least 12 hours of In-service/continuing education annually; When it is apparent that participation is a detriment to the Program philosophy or policy regarding the role and/or responsibilities of a Guardian ad Litem.
Failure to hold the best interests of the child as the paramount concern.
Breach of confidentiality.
Unwillingness to accept supervision from program staff.
Unwillingness to follow program procedures and policy.
Failure to maintain case activity records.
Failure to advocate for timely permanency for children.
Failure to complete case assignment within time frame of court schedule or statutory requirements.
As a volunteer, the GAL can request to resign from the position.
Q. What commitments do the Guardian ad Litem Program make to it's volunteers?
A. To provide pre-service training, in-service/continuing education. Also to provide support, consultation, guidance, supervision, and evaluation of the volunteers work as a guardian ad litem.
Q. What if a Guardian ad Litem needs help with a case?
A. Guardians are assisted by a strong back-up team of attorneys, case coordinators and administrative staff.
Q. How will a new GAL be assigned to a case once I have completed training?
A. Once a person has completed the necessary requirements for becoming a GAL, they will be contacted by the local area Coordinator prior to any appointment. The Coordinator will share with the new GAL basic information concerning the case and advise regarding the time frame for hearings and anticipated duration of the case. Some volunteers have preferences regarding the types of cases on which they will serve, or the age of the child with which they will work. A new GAL will only be assigned to a case if they accept to take on the responsibilities of that particular case, and will continue to serve as the child's GAL until formally relieved by the court.
A Guardian ad Litem may take as many or as few cases as wanted or feel that they can manage. Some volunteers assume responsibility for only one case at a time, while others have the time and desire to manage several cases at a time. The number of cases on which each GAL is ultimately appointed will depend upon individual choice and the time available to serve.
Q. Is being a Guardian ad Litem dangerous?
A. We would never ask a GAL to do anything or go anywhere that makes them feel unsafe. A Gal can take a social worker, another GAL staff member, or police officer on a home visit if they feel the need to. They can also arrange meetings in public places, such as a restaurant or the Guardian ad Litem office.
Q. How do I find out more about becoming a Guardian ad Litem?
A. Visit Guardian ad Litem Volunteer Opportunities, or contact our office at 651-266-5270 or via email at email@example.com.
Q. How do I find out when your next GAL Pre-service training is?
A. Please contact our office at 651-266-5270 or via email at GAL Email. We are mandated by the Supreme Court of Minnesota to conduct 40 hours of training. Our training program are held twice a year, in the Spring and Fall. We usually schedule trainings on some Saturdays and some week-day evenings.
Q. How do I get to the Guardian ad Litem office?
A. The Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) Program is located in the Juvenile and Family Justice Center (JFJC) on the corner of West 7th Street and St. Peter in St. Paul. Our address is: 25 West 7th Street, St. Paul, MN 55102-1173. Directions
Parking is usually available in the Municipal Parking underground lot- entrance located on North side of Exchange Street between St. Peter and Wabasha Streets one block north of west 7th Street. There are both street and surface parking lots in the area, but they fill up very early in the morning.
Q. What is the Child Protection Timeline for Removal to Permanancy?
A. Please see the Judical and Court Administration Responsibilites and Timeline under the Juvemile Protection Rules (Effective March 1, 2000).