Thank you for your interest in becoming a volunteer guardian ad litem!
What is a Child Advocate?
A child advocate is a person appointed by the Juvenile Court to represent the best interests of a child who is involved in a court proceeding. The official title of this person is guardian ad litem. Child advocates are men and women from all walks of life who volunteer for this role out of concern for the needy children in our community.
Advocates have a significant impact on the important decisions the court will make about the child’s future.
Child advocates review written materials about the child’s situation. They visit the child and talk to family members, foster parents and caseworkers who have information about the child’s needs. Along with other professionals involved in the case, they attend court hearings and give the judge an opinion about the recommendations being made for the child and family. After the court makes a decision, the advocate follows-up the progress of the case to make sure the child and family are receiving needed services.
People who volunteer as child advocates take on a very important responsibility, but their duties are limited. They do not provide a home for the child and they have no control over the person or property of the child. The advocate is expected to think independently and objectively about each child’s case and work on behalf of that child’s best interests. Once the court’s involvement is over, the child advocate is dismissed.
Child advocates accept case assignments as their time and interest allow. Once the initial case review is complete, you can expect to spend about ten hours each month on each case you are assigned. You must be able to attend court hearings which are held during business hours in downtown Minneapolis.
Although some of the work can be done over the telephone, you must have daytime hours available to contact social workers, teachers, therapists and attorneys. Attending case meetings and visiting foster homes may be easier if you have the use of a care. You will be reimbursed for mileage/parking expenses or bus fare.
There is no special degree or educational requirement to be a child advocate volunteer. A concern for children and a willingness to speak up for a child’s best interests are the most important qualifications. You must be a responsible adult with good judgment and the common sense that comes with life experience. If you are patient and have the ability to understand children and families in stressful situations, you could make an excellent child advocate.
A Guardian ad Litem is an advocate for a child whose welfare is a matter of concern for the court. In legal terms, it means "guardian for the lawsuit." When the court is making decisions that will affect a child's future, the child needs and deserves a spokesperson -- an objective adult to provide independent information about the best interests of the child. While other parties in the case are concerned about the child, the Guardian ad Litem is the only person in the case whose sole concern is the best interests of the child, and he or she is assigned as an advocate for the child for the duration of the court process. Different from a legal guardian, the Guardian ad Litem has no control over the person or property of the child and does not provide a home for the child. The Guardian ad Litem does not function as the child's attorney and does not provide direct services to the child.
There are three primary functions:
1. Information-gathering for the court
2. Making recommendations to the court
3. Advocating for speedy decisions that take into account the impact of delays and time on the child
AS AN ADVOCATE YOU:
Based on their independent information gathering about the case, and their contact with the child and other people concerned, the Guardian ad Litem comes to court and makes recommendations to the judge that they think would be in the best interests of the child.
Guardian ad Litem input is one of several important pieces of information the judge uses in making an informed ruling on behalf of the child.
Guardians ad Litem need to be an independent voice that is not influenced by any other party's interests or position. A Guardian ad Litem who can tell the court "I was there -- this is what I observed" can be invaluable.
Guardians ad Litem come from a variety of personal and professional backgrounds. A concern for children and a willingness to speak up for a child's best interests are important qualifications. Guardians ad Litem are responsible adults with good judgment and the common sense that comes with life experience.
All advocates are required to complete an application, interview and screening process, including a thorough background check. They must complete a 40 hour pre-service training that is typically offered twice a year (once in the spring and then the fall). We ask that volunteers commit themselves to at least a year and a half of service and that they carry two cases during their volunteer tenure. The goal is always to ensure that we have Guardians ad Litem who are able to fulfill their commitment to the children for whom they advocate.
There are continuing educational opportunities to enhance skills, and ongoing support and supervision are provided.
Personal qualities important for the Guardian ad Litem (GAL):
Abilities necessary for being an effective GAL include:
VOLUNTEERS in the Guardian ad Litem Program agree to:
THE GUARDIAN AD LITEM PROGRAM agrees to:
The first step is to contact the GAL Program in your district. They will be able to explain the steps involved.
The GAL Opportunities page has links to contact the district and more information on their volunteer application and training process.
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