Ask a Mentor: Case Notes and Documentation

Volunteer Question

I'm confused about something. I was talking with my volunteer supervisor about my judicial review guardian ad litem report to the court, which is due in a couple of weeks. I told her I couldn't remember whether "Billy" said he heard from his mom on his birthday. Then my volunteer supervisor asked me to check my case notes to see what I had written. I jot down things on pieces of paper sometimes and stick them in a manila folder. What does she mean by case notes?

Mentor Answer

Your case notes document everything you, the guardian ad litem, does on the case—an ongoing chronological record.

I'm a big fan of complete case notes because I use them so much. It's a problem to take a case from a former volunteer who kept no notes as I don't know what the guardian has been doing. I'm at a disadvantage, too, when taking a case which has re-opened in court and the file given me from the previous guardian has nothing but a few emails and some court documents. A guardian's work involves much more than what appears in a guardian ad litem's report or child visit report.

It is easy for me to use the computer to keep a running record of everything I do—phone calls made, phone calls that don't get returned, notes from staffing, interviews, more detail on a visit to the child than I need to put into my report, brief reference to emails exchanged, what happened in court, etcetera. I then periodically print up my notes and put them in the file. Others prefer handwritten notes on log sheets.

I reread my notes carefully before writing a report or going to a staffing, and I really study them before testifying at a termination of parental rights trial. Keep in mind that your file and notes can be seen by other parties. There is a good set of reminders about documentation at the end of chapter nine in your training manual. One primary job of the volunteer is monitoring the case and documenting the work you have done on it.

Your notes are going to serve as evidence of the work you have done on a case. If you don't document it, it didn't happen!

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