Ask a Mentor: Talking to Caregivers

Volunteer Question

I'm a little uncomfortable making suggestions or giving advice to a caregiver. I've been a volunteer for only a year and since you have been a guardian ad litem for a long time, I thought you would have a better perspective on this. Though I've noticed some things which I wish could be changed to benefit the children, I've been hesitant to say anything. I'm concerned that a really big issue will come up and that I won't feel prepared to talk to the caregiver.

Mentor Answer

This is an area which does take some good judgment on the part of the guardian ad litem. Think of it as bringing up a concern affecting the safety or welfare of the children rather than as giving advice. Judge whether what you observe is something you can overlook, whether it is something you should talk about or whether it is an issue you need to talk about and report. You have a mentor and a volunteer supervisor with whom you can talk to help make decisions about what to do. And sometimes you may want to consult with the dependency case manager if it is related to the case plan. The dependency case manager may need to deal with the issue.

Once I had a case where the caregiver yelled at the children (hers and my child) all the time. I soon learned there was no meanness in her voice and it did not seem to bother the children. I decided to overlook it. In another case, however, I discovered the caregiver was allowing my 9-year-old to ride in the front seat. I did speak to caregiver about that and also reported it to the volunteer supervisor and case manager. If I were to find that a baby in my case was sleeping in the bed with an adult, I would want to speak up about that. These are definite concerns about child safety.

If you feel hesitant to speak to an older caregiver who may have been raising children for a long time, think of ways to bring up an issue without giving advice or being judgmental. For example, with the child riding in the front seat you might say, "for the child's safety, he should be twelve to ride in the front seat. What is your understanding about their riding in the front?"

The question helps pull the caregiver into the conversation so that you can more easily push for the children to ride in the back. Just keep in mind that your focus is the safety and welfare of the child, not preferences you may have for the way the caregiver functions, and that you always have someone with whom to consult if you are unsure.

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