I thought I'd throw in some informational posts to keep me writing. I do want to help others with what I know from being in the system awhile. Plus, I think the more I get writing, the more I'll be prompted to get at the heart of what I need to get out. And I know there are things I need to get out that I'm not writing.
Disclaimer: acronyms may be state-specific and your location may have another term or different way of doing things. Feel free to share in the comments.
So, today, GAL! Guardian ad litem. This is the lawyer that represents the children in a case. I have no idea how many cases they are assigned to, but it's a staggering number. They have their own practices and may work with all sorts of cases, as I know one we worked with was recommended as a good divorce lawyer. Where I live, they are required to see foster children quarterly, which means usually right before court. Unlike home visits by caseworkers, these visits are usually five minutes or less. I've had some standing in our doorway, and others at an agency before or after parenting time. Once a GAL missed a visit and had to say so in court and said that he would visit that night (without having talked to us about this). So, right at the end of court, he came over with a sheepish smile, and guess who stood in my doorway for five minutes that night. I've learned to just schedule the visits myself. I know when court is coming up and I call or e-mail with available dates and times. Boom. (I've started doing this with caseworkers most of the time, too.) I was grateful that one GAL had known our foster child since before the child was born. Older siblings were in care and he was assigned to that case. He knows the full story better than caseworkers who have rotated over the years, though he doesn't devote as much time to the case as a caseworker.
So, why a GAL? They are not representing the parents of the foster children nor usually communicating much with them to support them in their efforts to reunify with their children, like a caseworker or parent's lawyer. They are solely representing the interests of the children. They speak in court. They can sometimes help foster parents when a foster child's needs are not being met by something in the system, but this can depend on the quality of the GAL. I have only asked one or two questions of a GAL outside of the scheduled visits because any issues we've had have been resolved with a caseworker or caseworker's supervisor. We're pretty fortunate.
Because GALs are so overbooked, some children also have a CASA (court-appointed special advocate) to advocate for the needs of the foster child. CASAs are trained volunteers, not lawyers. I have not yet had a child with a CASA, though I know they exist in our area.
I am usually not told initially who the GAL is for a case, so I have also learned to ask in the first week or two, "Who is the GAL and what is the contact information?" Excellent information to have on hand as foster parents.
So there you go, GALs. Another part of the system that, when it works well, can keep the system accountable to do right by kids.