Funny Word, Serious Business: What is a Guardian ad Litem?
July 26, 2017
Guardian at lidem
Guardian as litum
Guardian and lietum
Guardian ad litem.
No matter how you spell it, guardian ad litem is a funny word that means serious business. Court judge serious. Save a life serious. But don’t let its unusual name fool you. Guardians ad litem aren’t graven characters from the latest science fiction bestseller. They are everyday people – real people – making a positive difference in the lives of children and improving our communities every day.
What is a guardian ad litem?
Officially, a guardian ad litem (or GAL) is a court-appointed special advocate who speaks on behalf of the best interest of an abused, abandoned or neglected child in the dependency court system. In other words, it’s just a regular ‘ol person who decided to do something extraordinary with their time in order to provide the best possible outcome for foster and dependency court children. A GAL’s recommendations are critical to a judge’s analysis and final ruling on the fate of a child.
What does a GAL do?
A guardian ad litem’s sole job is to serve as the voice of the child during dependency court proceedings – a voice that is separate from anyone else involved in the case. GALs are volunteers that are empowered by the court system and specifically trained to observe children, parents and foster families in order to determine which living situation is in the best interest of the child. GAL child advocates are responsible for gathering facts surrounding a child’s case, reviewing reports, visiting a child’s home, school or placement and providing the court with an unbiased recommendation. For many children, their GAL is the only adult constant they have.
GALs share their moniker with the Guardian ad Litem Program, the nonprofit organization that recruits and trains them. The GAL Program provides all of the necessary training and program coordination for the local volunteer advocates and helps provide simple necessities to the children they support. Advocates also work closely with the GAL Program’s child advocate managers and program attorneys.
Can anyone be a guardian ad litem?
In short – yes! Anyone who wants to make a difference in the life of a child can volunteer, regardless of age, race, gender, income, education or background. GALs do need to be at least 21 years old and complete a background screening and 30 hours of comprehensive training. On average, a GAL only spends about 3 hours a week on a case – far less time than most people spend watching television.
However, not everyone has what it takes to be a GAL. They are no half-hearted helpers; they are superheroes in the eyes of the children they serve. Because the role can have such a profound impact in the lives of children and their families, guardians ad litem have hearts dedicated to truly making a difference. They bring a commitment and determination to create a brighter future for our youth – one child at a time.
Why does a child need a GAL – isn’t that what social workers do?
Social workers represent the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF), the government agency that actually has temporary legal custody of the children in the dependency system. Social workers are challenged with upholding the legal rights of all parties involved, including parents and family members. In some cases, what is legally allowable is not necessarily in the best interest of the child’s welfare. A GAL focuses entirely on what is in the best interest of the child and becomes their voice in the court system. In 4 out of 5 cases, all or almost all of the recommendations made by a guardian ad litem are accepted by the court.
Children with a guardian ad litem volunteer advocate are more likely to be adopted and half as likely to re-enter foster care. They also tend to perform better in school. In the First Coast community alone, the GAL Program has saved taxpayers an estimated $2 million.