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Proposed Standards for Guardians ad Litem

Child welfare proceedings in Nebraska are titled “In the Interest of X,” where X is the name of the child.  Court jurisdiction is taken not by virtue of a charge against the parent, per se, but because there is a child whose needs are not being met.  The parties all gather in the courtroom to argue about — and the judge makes decisions based upon — what the “best interests” of the child are.  Every order is framed in terms of the child’s permanency plan.

Given that the child is the heart of the case, it may come as a surprise to learn that much of the time, the child herself never appears in court.  Decisions that may have lifelong consequences for her well-being are made in her absence.  To make a determination of best interests, instead, the judge often relies on the evidence and recommendations brought by the lawyers and caseworkers.  This is where the Guardian ad Litem becomes crucial.

In Nebraska, the Guardian ad Litem (GAL) plays a dual role: to be the legal counsel for the child, and also to guard and advocate for what the attorney considers to be in the child’s best interests.  It is a demanding task.  (Any parent will understand why these duties may often be in tension.) Long-standing guidelines laid out by the Nebraska Supreme Court for GALs emphasize the importance of frequent visitation, open lines of communication between attorney and child client, diligent investigation and honest reporting to the court. Many GALs in our state work tirelessly on behalf of their clients, making evening home visits and answering midnight phone calls, attending myriad team meetings and making tough decisions to balance the child’s expressed interests with an independent consideration of best interests.  However, we also know that some have fallen down on this most important job, leaving already vulnerable children truly voiceless in a court process that will determine their entire future.

This year, Voices for Children testified in support of LB 15, a bill that would have enacted an exhaustive list of powers and duties for GALs into state statute.  Through the legislative process, Senator Krist, the bill’s sponsor, worked with the Nebraska Supreme Court and came to a compromise; by its final version, LB 15 basically required the Court to enact standards (rather than guidelines, as before) to which GALs may be held accountable.

The Court now has a draft proposal of this set of standards , found here.  It is very similar to the language of the original LB 15. The proposal is open for public comment until June 15, and we strongly encourage interested readers to examine the standards and take the opportunity to give input before the window closes. For our part, we believe this is a good set of standards and will give both lawyers and judges a firm expectation for what constitutes acceptable GAL representation.  We are especially enthusiastic about the following provisions:

– VISITATION: In addition to the statutorily required intervals for consulting with the juvenile, when possible, the guardian ad litem should consult with the juvenile when: (i) The juvenile requests that the guardian ad litem meet with him or her; (ii) The guardian ad litem has received notification of any emergency, or other significant event or change in circumstances affecting the juvenile, including a change in the juvenile’s placement; and (iii) Prior to any hearing at which substantive issues affecting the juvenile’s legal or best interests are anticipated to be addressed by the court. (iv) The guardian ad litem should make every effort to see the juvenile in his or her placement at least once, with respect to each such placement.

-COURT ATTENDANCE: The guardian ad litem should advocate for the juvenile to be present at all court hearings as appropriate and take steps where necessary to ensure such attendance on the part of the juvenile.

In our own comment, we intend to highlight our support for these provisions.  We will also suggest, as we did in testimony for LB 15, that language be included requiring GAL court reports contain a section on the child’s expressed interests.  The current proposal does not contain this language within the standards themselves, though there is a small section for expressed interests on the report form template in Appendix D.  We believe that – regardless of which format the reporting form takes — a GAL should inform the court of the child’s expressed preferences at every hearing.

Children who are the subject of child welfare proceedings have already been exposed to the trauma of abuse or neglect, possibly removed from the only home they have known, and are experiencing the uncertainty of an opaque court process that will determine what their family will look like and what their future will hold. They need a strong advocate, who can be both counsel and guide.  We hope that implementing court standards for GALs will result in better representation for all children in the system, an will mean more children’s voices are heard in their own cases.


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  1. REPLY
    shelly says

    Just to add…can you advocate to require GAL to submit their reports to parties 5 days prior to hearing AND that if a contractor is providing case mgt, they too get a copy

  2. REPLY
    Mindy Hill says

    What if the children ages 12 and 14 are experiencing parental alienation by the physical custody parent and verbal emotional abuse but too afraid to be honest w Cps and councilor? Also physical custody parent abusing other parent by withdrawing kids from parent and not allowing them to take them to medical appointments etc allowing step mom instead when joint legal custody of both parents is in place? Feeling powerless and fear kids mental health from current situations also past not denied by non physical custody parent? What are the options?

  3. REPLY
    Sheri Perales says

    The GAL should always consider family placement first for permanency when family want the child, they need to consider when birthdays, graduation all those special events come around as the child gets older . The child needs to know they have family that love them, support them and will raise them like their own! Family shouldn’t have to hire a lawyer and fight GAL to obtain custody of their grandchild whom they love and are plenty capable of caring for them! State of Nebraska has a very messed up system! It’s like very important, crucial lifetime decisions for the child are made by one person in the system! Not a team!

  4. REPLY
    Daniel Gokie says

    I am a Mental Health Practitioner, and repeatedly exposed and reported a GAL violating the Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, and engaging in Child Custody Fraud and Adoption Fraud. That same GAL sought out my 10 year old son, and tried to do the same thing to him. My son is 14 years old now, and like many of the kids I worked with over the years, my son has become a very outspoken advocate against Child Custody Fraud, Adoption Fraud, and all other forms of Child Trafficking.

  5. REPLY
    Tammy says

    What happens when the GAL has decided how she thinks and feels about the situation before even speaking to the children? My almost 14 year old twins have been basically screaming from the rooftops saying that their father abused them. But the GAL refuses to listen and only wants to hear the children say what “mom did to you” leading questions, refusing to even smile at the kids until they talk about their mother. So, they just sit there. I do not want MY story heard! These kids Need someone in their corner!!

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