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

Posted by faradhi in Advocacy, Foster Care, Legal Issues.
Tags: , , ,

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.