The hub of information for the Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program, our blog contains posts with announcements, news and events, articles, periodicals and additions or updates to our website.

This page contains published posts from the April 2012 archive sorted chronologically with the newest at the top.

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.

Ask a Mentor: Sources of Case Information

Volunteer Question

I need some suggestions about reaching my dependency case manager (DCM). It has been several weeks since I've had an update from her on my 7-year-old "Sally." Sally was having some school problems the last time I talked to the DCM. Likewise, she told me that the therapist had only seen Sally twice. She also said that daycare where Sally stays after school had some concerns. I need to find out about these things. How can I get the DCM to return my calls?

Mentor: Are you counting on the DCM to provide you with all the information regarding Sally?

Yes, I figured one source is the most efficient way.

Mentor Answer

As guardians and advocates for these children, we should be going directly to the various persons who are providing services or information and not relying on the DCM for our information. We stay in contact with the DCM to get information not otherwise available and to check our observations and assessment with what the DCM is seeing.

It is really important that we directly talk with parents, caregivers, teachers, therapists, daycare staff and any other collateral contacts pertinent to our cases. Sometimes we can get in touch and obtain information by email or phone. If we do some of our child visits at the daycare or at school, then that gives a good opportunity to talk directly with the teacher or daycare staff working with the child. And of course, we always maintain regular contact with the caregiver.

Judges need our recommendations that come from an independent perspective—not based on information filtered through a third person. Staying in contact with significant persons in a case is the only way we can really do a good job advocating for our children.

Ask a Mentor: Interviewing Parents in TPR Cases

Volunteer Question

My newest case is one with three children who were severely abused by the parents more than one time. The Department of Children and Families immediately filed a petition for termination of parental rights (TPR) this last time. I'm just starting the investigation process and am making a list of the people I ought to interview. I've met the children and talked with their caregiver. I put the parents on my interview list, but I've been thinking about it. What is my purpose if the children are not going back to them?

Mentor Answer

There are a number of reasons and I'll suggest several. You will be required to write a special report called the Manifest Best Interest Report prior to the trial. Even though you will obtain much information from the records and various documents, talking with the parents will help you do a better job completing this report. Also, interviewing them will help you to decide whether you really support TPR.

Another reason for interviewing the parents is that it will help you determine whether you support supervised visitation with the children and whether these visits should be supervised by a therapist. You will certainly understand the children better if you talk with the parents and learn something about the parental environment in which they lived. If the parents still live in the same house, you will also get an idea of the children's previous physical environment. And remember, it will be important to interview the parents separately. If you are hesitant to do these interviews by yourself, be sure to ask your mentor or your supervisor to go with you.

Seven Past 'Ask a Mentor' Columns Added

The Ask a Mentor column is an educational periodical published on our blog. Written by our longtime volunteer Dorothy "Dot" Binger, each column provides a mentor's answer to a specific question asked by a volunteer. Discussing situations that they may encounter in the future, the columns are a valuable resource for our guardians ad litem.

Prior to November 2011, Ask a Mentor appeared in The Guardian newsletter as the Mentor Tips column. While seven columns in past issues of The Guardian from February to October 2011 are available in our archive, they did not otherwise appear on our website.

In order to remedy that shortcoming and make it easier for volunteers to access this excellent information, those seven columns have now been added to the blog.

Each of Binger's columns are available in the Ask a Mentor archive.

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