Ask a Mentor: Understanding Your Role as a Guardian

Volunteer Question

This doesn't sound like a problem or a question, but I need to say it to somebody. I really don't feel like I'm making any difference in my case and wonder why I am being a guardian ad litem for "Buddy." He is in a good foster home and his mother is working on her case plan. Visits with her have gone well. There's no father in the picture. Buddy needs therapy, but the case manager arranged for that immediately. He seems to have adjusted to the change in school and is doing well. All my visits to him have been good, I just don't think I'm doing anything for him. Am I missing something?

Mentor Answer

If you had not been checking on all these areas, how would we know that things are going well? Monitoring is one of the most important responsibilities of a guardian ad litem and you seem to be doing a good job of that. Furthermore, you probably are the only person in the case who is visiting him at school where he spends a big part of his day.

Not every case has a big crisis or unique need for the guardian ad litem to jump in and save the day. And you never know when something could happen—the case manager could change, his placement might have to change or even the therapist could change. Having you as a constant person in his life is important to Buddy. Learning that he can trust you to be there for him frees him to let you know his desires. You need to know and report his wishes regardless of what you deem is in his best interest.

Likewise, you don't know what good things might not happen or what unfortunate things are avoided simply because you are staying on top of things. Keep on monitoring—what you are doing is very important for Buddy. In doing so, you are prepared to fulfill your obligation of reporting to the court and advocating for his best interest.

Another thought, if you believe this case is going well and that the child is stable, perhaps you could volunteer to take on a second case. Each case is unique and presents different challenges. Think about it. However, if time is a problem for you, just know that what you are doing for Buddy is very important.

Volunteer Question

This is "Katie," one of the volunteers you agreed to mentor. I've been doing fine with my cases. Actually, I'm on my third case because none has lasted more than six months. But there is something about this case that I'd like to discuss. It may seem petty, but it makes me wonder if I'm not doing something right.

The case involves two children, "Roger" who is ten and "Tammy" who is eight. They have different fathers, neither of whom live here nor are involved in their lives. The children were sheltered from the mother because she failed to keep them safe from an abusive boyfriend. She does have a case plan, visits the children regularly and they love her. The children currently live in the home of an adult cousin who is married but has no children. This couple loves them.

The maternal grandmother lives nearby, but her health is too poor to care for the children. They see her almost every day. I urged counseling for the children and they do have a good therapist. The children look forward to going to him. The children did not change schools, so things are going well there and the children love their teachers. I've observed several visits of the mother and have some things I'm recommending in the upcoming staffing.

So, what am I concerned about? The children don't seem very responsive to me. They always greet me nicely and answer my questions but don't seem to care whether I'm there or not. I don't feel I'm getting through to them. These children have several adults who are going to bat for them. Why am I needed?

Mentor Answer

Roger and Tammy are not old enough to distinguish the significance of your role from that of other supportive adults. To carry out your role you don't have to have a strong emotional connection going on between you and the children—they are responsive enough to help you carry out your role. The other supportive adults cannot approach this situation with the kind of objectivity you have and with your commitment to make responsible recommendations.

Remember, you are serving these children regardless of whether they remember you this time next year or not and their lives will be better because of your work.

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