Friday, October 21, 2016

Acronym of the Day: GAL

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.


  1. You have a much more positive opinion of GALs than I do. I find them superfluous at best and totally pointless, other than another warm body in the court room. I might be able to pick my kids GAL out of a line up, but then again maybe not. We only see them when we have court, although at the request of my daughter's mobile therapist, we are asking to be seen before court so my daughter doesn't see her mom at court and have weeks of behaviors afterwards like last time. I think the GAL talked to my son about adoption in whispers when she found out at court that this was the decision for his case. Fortunately, we have good case workers so if my son did have objections they would have made them known in lieu of the GAL. Mostly, the GAL just goes along with whatever the county decides, regardless of the interest of the child, or so it seems in my experience. It's so strange how differently things are done from state to state and even county to county in my state. I'm honestly not sure if there are CASA's in my state.

    1. Do they speak in court? Ours speaks quite a bit. In practice, some GALs here are just a warm body and we had one in particular that I felt did nothing for the case. We haven't had any truly tear-out-your-hair crazy cases, so "nothing" wasn't a problem. But at least two I've seen specifically benefit the children. Thank you for sharing your experience!

  2. Here in SC, the GAL is what appears to be your CASA's. Our GAL is a trained volunteer. They are supposed to visit the child once a month to determine what is the best interests of the child, but I have not had that happen. I had my first placement for 13 months and the GAL did not visit once.
    The children do not have an attorney appointed solely for their interests - they only have the DSS attorney.

    1. Interesting. Does the DSS attorney visit them?