Months ago, I posted the essay I wrote as part of my application to be a volunteer Guardian ad litem, but, since then, I haven't given updates.
After a lengthy process, I was accepted into the Guardian program and went through an intensive training session (and background check) where I learned about all different types of abuse and how to spot it, how different children react differently to different types of abuse, what the Guardian ad litem program is all about, the kinds of things we will be expected to do as guardians and what to look for in determining the best interests of the child.
For those of you who don't know, a Guardian ad litem is a person appointed by the court to act as an independent fact gatherer in cases of suspected abuse, neglect or abandonment. Guardians look out solely for the best interests of the child or children. We work independent of the Department of Children and Family Services but talk to the family's appointed social worker and gain access to the child's DCF file as a way to find out more information.
As guardians, we interview parents, siblings and other family members of the child or children in question; watch videos and read reports by the Child Protection Team or other similar group that determines whether or not suspicion of abuse, neglect or abandonment is valid; interview teachers, school social workers, principals, doctors and therapists; and read school, medical and psychiatric records. Most importantly, we interact with the child or children themselves.
Every month, guardians write reports detailing the required visit to the home in which the child is currently placed (most of the time, the child or children will have already been removed from the parent or parents). We write lengthier reports judges read before court hearings in which we provide details about the child's life: how is the child doing in school; is a special education plan needed; does the child have enough food and adequate clothing and supervision; does the child need counseling or medical attention; is the home of temporary or permanent placement adequate to meet the child's needs; etc., etc., etc.
Guardians have a surprising amount of influence over the judge and, nine times out of 10, the judge requires that our recommendations be carried out. We are the voice of the child in court, and we are the only people in the courtroom who don't have an agenda as far as the child is concerned. It's a huge responsibility.
Having been a reporter, the job itself hasn't been that tough for me. I'm used to prying into people's personal lives, and I love to interview people and gather information, to piece together clues to solve some kind of great mystery. I've had two cases so far, but I am on a hiatus until the end of this busy time at work.
Following are a few words about each case. No names, exact ages or identifying details can be given.
My first case involved three girls between the ages of 8 and 15. Only one of the girls claimed abuse. Her father supposedly sexually abused her over a period of several years. After mom kicked him out, he fled. The authorities had a warrant out for his arrest but couldn't find him. They stopped looking after a while, and the case closed. All three girls are in counselling.
I worked on the case between September and December 2005. During that time, I learned not to trust DCF workers (this is my opinion, not the opinion of the GAL program). They are underprepared, underpaid and overworked. In my opinion, they will take the quickest way out of a case, even if that means additional harm to a child.
This case involved a tiny baby girl whose mother went out of town and left her with the father. When mom got back, baby had a fractured skull and broken ribs. Dad said baby hit her head on a piece of furniture. Baby went to live with grandma for a while, and the case was going to be sent to a GAL program in grandma's vicinity. However, the Child Protection Team doctor said he didn't think the injuries were caused by abuse. Case dismissed.
I didn't work on this case for even a month, and I never even had a chance to lay eyes on the child before the case was dismissed. I'm starting to get disillusioned.