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“I am Not Your Attorney” – Thank God June 6, 2008

Posted by faradhi in Advocacy, Foster Care, Legal Issues.
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This is a statement that I have gotten twice while addressing failures of the Tennessee Guardian Ad Litem (I will be using GAL for short) assigned to our current child. Now I know that this poor excuse for an Attorney is not My attorney. All I have to say to that is “Thank God” I would rather have competent counsel.

I guess I should backup and explain a little. The child currently in my home is an infant. My understanding is that the GAL should follow the Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 40 Guidelines. The GAL is either unaware or unwilling to follow these guidelines because she is missing a lot.

First the GAL made no attempt to contact the child she is representing. The biological family where the child will be placed was contacted. However, the client got nothing. Now true, her client is more interested in pacifiers than attorneys but there is a section in the Rule 40 that covers that case.

(c) General Guidelines.

(2)Establishing and maintaining a relationship with the child is fundamental to representation. The guardian ad litem shall have contact with the child prior to court hearings and when apprised of emergencies or significant events affecting the child. The age and developmental level of the child dictate the type of contact by the guardian ad litem. The type of contact will range from observation of a very young or otherwise nonverbal child and the child’s caretaker to a more typical client interview with an older child. For all but the very young or severely mentally disabled child, for whom direct consultation and explanation would not be effective, the guardian ad litem shall provide information and advice directly to the child in a developmentally appropriate manner.

(3)The obligation of the guardian ad litem to the child is a continuing one and does not cease until the guardian ad litem is formally relieved by court order. The guardian ad litem shall represent the child at preliminary, adjudicatory, dispositional and post-dispositional hearings, including the permanency plan staffings, court reviews, foster care review board hearings and permanency hearings. The guardian ad litem should maintain contact with the child and be available for consultation with the child between hearings and reviews. For a child who is very young or severely mentally disabled, the guardian ad litem should regularly monitor the child’s situation through contacts with the child’s caretakers and others working with the child and through periodic observations of the child.


(d) Responsibilities and duties of a lawyer guardian ad litem.

(1)Conducting an independent investigation of the facts that includes:

(viii)Interviewing individuals involved with the child, including school personnel, caseworkers, foster parents or other caretakers, neighbors, relatives, coaches, clergy, mental health professionals, physicians and other potential witnesses;

So, ok maybe expecting the GAL to attempt to contact an infant is a little extreme. Aside from being an infant that cannot talk, the child was too busy watching the bears go round and round above the crib. And believe me when I say, this child takes bear watching seriously. However, the above does say she should have observed the child and interviewed the foster parents (That’s Us!) However, she made no attempt to contact us prior to court. When I confronted her about this she responded that she did not know who the foster parents were. I guess the whole investigation part is a complete mystery to her. I mean, she would had to have used her critical thinking skill to figure out how to get the foster parent information, like call the Social Worker. But hey, Who expects an Attorney to have critical thinking skills. It is not like that skill is important in an attorney.

Now, I am not so egotistical where I need the GAL to contact us on every child. As long as the GAL is acting in the child’s best interest I could care less. In this case, how would the GAL know what is in the child’s best interest if she does not talk to the caregivers. Again in case you are keeping score at home, The caregiver that’s ME! Hi! 😀 One could argue that the GAL should talk to the caregivers for every child. But I am not making that argument here. Maybe in another post.

So in the 15 or so minutes we had with the GAL, we asked the GAL to petition the court for one thing for the child. Even when a child is in foster care, there are certain services, educational and medical to name a couple, that can only be approved by the biological parents. In the cases where the parent is unavailable or otherwise unreachable, a judge must approve the service. Of course a petition must be filed in order for the Judge to rule on the request. An attorney must file the petition. Some things the State’s Attorney can file and others the Guardian Ad Litem must do. The GAL did nothing.

So after a couple of weeks of this request not being acted on, we go before the Foster Care Review Board. I know you would be shocked to hear that the GAL was not there. The Foster Care Review Board is a group of volunteers that review the case and if there are some deficiencies they can request a Judicial review. So we bring up our concerns with the Foster Care Review Board about the service that the child qualifies for but is not getting because the GAL did not petition the court. During the discussion we bring up that the GAL has made no attempt to contact us or the child. The response from one of the court staff was the first time we heard the “The GAL is not your Attorney.” I followed with GAL is required to speak with us as per the Rule 40 Guidelines. The result was a Judicial Review was requested. As of this date we do not know when the Judicial Review is scheduled.

During a conversation this week with the GAL in what turned out to be an unrelated matter, the GAL made the mistake of asking us “What is our problem.” Well, she did not like the answer. I began to detail where I saw her inaction has caused the child to miss services she had a right to have. The GAL would give an excuse and I would follow with a reason that excuse is not valid. She got rather angry. She stated again “I am not your attorney.” to which I replied, “No, your {insert child’s name} attorney and you have done nothing.” She then stated that she did more for the children than she did for her other clients. I followed with I feel sorry for her other clients. The conversation when downhill from there.

The point lost on these people is that nothing I have asked for is for myself. Why do they think that this would be a valid argument. No you are not my attorney you are the child’s. Do your job and get the child what they need. You are supposed to be the child’s Advocate.

“Guardian ad litem” is a lawyer appointed by the court to advocate for the best interests of a child and to ensure that the child’s concerns and preferences are effectively advocated.

What is sad is that I am told this is the norm. The GAL may have thought why put a lot of effort in to this case since as soon as a ICPC was completed the child would be going to another state and as such the child was the other state’s problem. Therefore, anything beyond getting the ICPC done could be ignored by not only the GAL but the social worker as well. (More on the social worker later.) They did not count on the foster parents actually advocating for the child. So next lesson learned, advocating for the child will be met with resistance if it means work for those who should be doing the advocating. Sad.

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Comments»

1. Lisa - June 6, 2008

I am a former foster child and current child advocate and I agree with your expectations of the GAL.

The GAL you mention should read “I Speak for This Child: True Stories of A Child Advocate” by Gay Courter.

Your post makes me wonder about the training provided for and expectations upheld by other GALS in your area. And what could be done to change this…

I am a member of Foster Care Alumni of America, and I know that there is a new Tennessee chapter being established, and think this might be an important issue to bring to their attention.

I just returned from an amazing conference in Colorado, with over a thousand participants. Approximately half were judicial staff (judges, attorneys, CASAs, GALs) and the other half were from the child welfare system. Each of Colorado’s 22 judicial districts were represented.

I wonder what it would take to make a conference like this happen in Tennessee?

2. faradhi - June 6, 2008

Lisa, Thanks for commenting.

I have wondered myself what training the GALs get if any. I do know it took me 5 minutes with Google to find the Bar’s web site. I feel it is pretty clear, but hey I am not an attorney.

I am so new to this whole experience, I am not sure where I can best channel my efforts to effect change. I do know that in my short time I have found some huge gaps I did not expect. I should point out that some gaps I expected do not exist or our state is working to prevent. (Such as moving children frequently and unnecessarily) I do plan on getting involved in the local Foster Parent Associations along with joining the NFPA. Maybe I will get some better focus then.

3. Lisa (former foster child) - June 9, 2008

First of all, as a former foster child, I thank you for having a heart that cares about an apathetic GAL who is not representing the best interest of children.

I fully support your involvement in local support groups. Foster-parenting can be a challenge, and it’s great to have a circle of people to talk to… As a stepmom, I personally benefit from having friends who encourage, inspire and challenge me in my personal life.

I would also encourage you to get involved in the newly-forming Tennessee chapter of Foster Care Alumni of America. If you are interested, please contact Joshua Connor at marvin172003@yahoo.com

Lisa

PS – I know that Tennessee is both making strides and facing challenges in terms of foster care. Even though I live in another state, I try to keep track: http://tennesseefosternews.blogspot.com/

4. fostermom00 - June 11, 2008

HA! I could have written that post. I have dealt with some of THE worst GAL’s known to the system. The first year or so that we were foster parents, I didn’t know what to do or how to fix the situation. Later on, I started banging heads together to get my kids what they needed. There were several GAL’s that wouldn’t take a case if I was the foster parent, and a few of them actually quit after dealing with me. I figure I’m weeding out the lazy ones so nobody else has to deal with them!

5. Trish - August 23, 2008

I am shocked at your GAL’s behavior. That being said I have only been fostering now for a little over four months!

I feel incredibly lucky that our GAL has been nothing but AMAZING for our FS. She comes over, calls on the phone and is completely interested in our FS and what HIS best interest is.

How the heck can a GAL say what the best interest of the child is if they do not know said child and have not spoken with their caregivers. Just because an ICPC is done DOES NOT mean the child is automatically going to that person either so……that means this kid has not been “looked after” by the person whom is supposed to be speaking for them in court! ack!

6. Rather Not Say - October 30, 2009

Can you fire your GAL if they don’t follow a court order an overrule it?

7. Melody - February 25, 2010

I am having the same problem. The GAL has never said one word to us. Never ask about the baby or if she needs anything. This is not right and is a form of abuse to the children. I have been to the web page that talks abour Rule 40. I printed it and plan to take it to our foster care review, not sure what good it will come of it. All I can say is that this is wrong. Thank God for foster parents who really care about the children and try to be a voice for them.

8. Tonya - October 13, 2010

Wow!! I am so sorry for you! As a preadoptive foster parent of an infant who was placed in our home at 7 weeks old, I have to say that I am THANKFUL that we haven’t had this experience with our GAL. She was in our home within days of our foster son being placed. She has never missed a court/meeting appearance. We have her office and cell phone number and we often speak via email as well. Although, I can tell you horror stories regarding other portions of this experience, I can honestly say that I am very pleased with out GAL!

9. Lisa - October 26, 2011

It’s 3:10am here in tennessee now I stumbled across your web page lookin for information about our case which sounds very similar to yours. We’ve had the honor to care for 14 children over the years and I’ve fought just as hard for each child as I’m fighting for this one. Some GAL’s are great. This one we have mow frightens me due to the lack of concern for what is truly in the child’s best intrest. If mom & dad can get it together I’m all for it and will support them way beyond what my “obligations” are, but if a child is obsivsiouly going back to a bad situation just do your job. We are willing to adopt this child. Isn’t permanency the goal?

10. Mac - March 9, 2016

I am looking for someone to please help. I found this site & I’m praying for someone to help. Out GAL in TN is horrible. She had never ever came to see the child, who was a newborn. Fifteen months later she had still never once called or came to home to visit the child, seriously not once In 15 months. In court our attorney ask how often had GAL came to home to visit child & I said never, of course she objected & moved on. The next day she shows up stays 5 mins weve an never seen or heard from her again. I think she was in one meeting with us an DCS personally. Another thing when the child is first put into custody, it states the GAL is suppose to investigate and report on finding what he/she thinks is in the best interest of child. Does that mean the GAL should meet with everyone involved. During anytime do they have to do there own interview with parents and once the child is brought into custody do they interview foster parents to be able report what is in the best interest of the child. Meaning ask should GAL ask how child and parent are around each other. Does the GAL have to observe the parents and child? I’ve asked and can’t get answers. I’ve read and the laws are so broad an confusing. I want to know by law does the GAL have to visit child at the home where it was placed? By law does the GAL have to call the guardian of child? meaning call and ask how the child is or if the child needs anything. By law does the GAL have to do her/his own personal interview once she/he has been appointed by courts? By law do they have to meet everyone involved to form an opinion. To me it’s extremely impossible do know what’s in the best interest of child if the GAL has never done this?? By law does GAL every once have to visit An observe the child? I am desperate an DCS in Tennessee is horrible. It is so corrupted an doesn’t seem from what I’ve seen so far that they are helping anyone. Our DCS case worker comes an stay if 5 mins maybe twice a month, she actually done Facetime calls for a few of her visits. She has never sent us one letter on court dates. She usually text an says we have court on…. I’ve soon learned that they are all very good friends, our attorneys,, GAL, case worker, magistrate and judge. I honestly wonder sometimes how they can sleep at night, I am just needing help of any kind. I just want to know for a fact what they HAVE to do because between everyone, our GAL is the one who is in charge. Our GAL is running everything and is not a nice person. Please contact with any info. Thank you so much


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