CHANGE A CHILD'S LIFE — CHANGE THE WORLD

About the Guardian ad Litem Program

man talking to teenage boy on a park bench

The Guardian ad Litem Program is able to represent thousands of children with the help of volunteers. Program volunteers donate countless hours to the children that they represent. The unique perspective of volunteers and their often creative solutions are highly valued by dependency court judges.

What is a Guardian ad Litem?

Guardian ad Litem is a volunteer appointed by the court to protect the rights and advocate for the best interests of a child involved in a dependency court proceeding as a result of abuse, neglect or abandonment. The volunteer Guardian ad Litem makes independent recommendations to the court by focusing on the needs of each child.

Volunteer Guardians ad Litem are:

  • Individuals who respect a child's inherent right to grow up with dignity in a safe environment.
  • Individuals who assure that the child's best interests are represented in the court at every stage of the case.

Qualifications for a Guardian ad Litem

  • You must be at least 19 years of age, with common sense and good judgment.
    • 19 and 20 year old volunteers will be assigned to assist a volunteer who is 21 years of age an older.
  • No special background is required – staff and legal support are provided.

Time Commitments for Guardian Volunteers

A Guardian ad Litem volunteer must successfully complete 30 hours of certification training, spend an average of 10 - 12 hours per month working on the case and make at least a one year commitment to the program.

Volunteers are assigned a sibling group. The cases often take a year or more. Parent(s) have one year to complete the tasks the court assigned them to do in order to show that they will be safe and responsible enough to be reunified with their child(ren). If one or more of the parents completes their tasks successfully and the children are reunited with them, the GAL Volunteer stays for six months after reunification to assure things remain stable. If the parents do not do what is required by the court to show they can protect the children from harm, their rights will be terminated by the court.

If the parent’s rights are terminated, the children are available for adoption and there are often relatives or other potential forever families who would like to adopt these children. The GAL volunteer stays with the case through the adoption process to assure it goes smoothly.

If the child ends up in foster care, a GAL volunteer will stay with them until they are at least 18.

Guardian ad Litem volunteers help assure no children fall through the cracks or that their voices are not heard no matter where they are in the child welfare system.

What is the role of the Guardian ad Litem?

  • Investigation: Carries out an objective, systematic examination of the situation, including relevant history, environment, relationships, and needs of the child. The Guardian volunteer interviews family, friends, and school staff.
  • Facilitation: Identifies resources and services for the child and facilitates a collaborative relationship between all parties involved in the case, helping to create a situation in which the child’s needs are met.
  • Advocacy: Conveys the best interests of the child to the court and relevant agencies.
  • Monitoring: Keeps track of whether the orders of the court are carried out.
  • Reporting: Reports findings and recommendations regarding the best interest of the child to the court.

Guardian ad Litem Volunteer Responsibilities

  • Visits the child at least once a month to assure they are safe.
  • Gathers and assesses independent information on a consistent basis about the child in order to recommend a resolution that is in the child’s best interest.
  • Reviews records.
  • Interviews appropriate parties involved in the case, including the child.
  • Determines whether a permanent plan has been created for the child in accordance with federal and state laws and whether appropriate services are being provided to the child and family.
  • Submits child visitation and month summary reports.
  • Submits a signed, written report with recommendations to the court every five months.
  • Attends and participates in court hearings and other related meetings to advocate for a permanent plan which serves the child’s best interest.
  • Maintains complete records about the case.

GAL Volunteers can now transport children over 5 years of age. They can take the child out to do normal things children their age do and allows the Volunteer to get to know the child and build trust.

The Guardian ad Litem Volunteer is often the only consistent person in these children’s lives.