Monthly case histories about the real guardianship experience
Guardianship Spotlight:
Arin Norris, FSGA Gulf Coast Chapter Designee
Board of Directors, National Guardianship Association
Executive Director, Mental Health Community Centers, Inc.
How I Became Involved in Guardianship

Arin Norris
I began in Indiana as a guardian ad lite m, one who is appointed by a court to represent the interests of a minor or incapacitated person in a particular matter. In that role, I learned to apply the best interest standard, always acting in the best interests of the client. I also received great training in cultural competency, o r the ability to respect the communication and health practices of those with different cultures.
 
After learning to be a guardian ad litem, I next moved into both training and representing them in court.
 
After I gained experience in child advocacy, our local judge asked me to start a volunteer guardianship program for incapacitated adults. This was an opportunity for me to combine the various parts of my expertise: management, volunteer coordination and advocacy as an attorney. Starting a new guardianship agency and is one of the biggest successes in my career, although it obviously was not done by me alone. It became clear that connecting partners is critical to serving incapacitated adults. I now live in Florida as the Executive Director of Mental Health Community Centers, Inc, and that volunteer program continues.
 
My first guardianship case was a 45-year old woman with a developmental disability and mental illness, at the end of her 72-hour hold for suicidal thoughts. I warned the hospital staff that the relative they were about to release her to was sexually abusive toward her. Subsequent cases were easier, but it gave me an interest in unraveling the messiest, most difficult ones. It has always been critical to me to incorporate the guardianship standards of practice into all casework, no matter how complex the issues.
 
Guardianship drew me in, and I now serve on the Board of Directors for the National Guardianship Association and the Florida State Guardianship Association. I just finished serving as guardian ad litem for a set of siblings in my community, and watched as they were successfully reunited with their mother and the case closed.

Guardianship Senior Citizen Hands
Laughter Really is the Best Medicine

My favorite thing about guardianship is laughing with a client. It is a moment of human connection that breaks through the formal legal process and the structure of guardianship.
 
A ward and I were sitting outside court one morning, waiting on her status hearing in which her sister/previous guardian was supposed to present an accounting. It was evident that the sister would never do that, though, because the ward's substantial funds had been depleted without explanation. We had been through so many of these hearings and had many more to face, that an air of gloom hung over both of us. The ward was experiencing a bad bout of anxiety from the court process and had hallucinations that were leaving her sleepless. Her hair hadn't been done in weeks and her clothes were stretched out and dirty. She smelled like stale smoke and we sat uncomfortably in the waiting room not speaking.
 
Suddenly, the ward nodded her head toward my purse and said, "Shouldn't you know, your purse is supposed to match your shoes. You're carrying a navy purse and you're wearing black heels." She smiled triumphantly at me. I was aghast that she had noticed this detail. I said, "You have on your bedroom slippers!" We both laughed and held our stomachs, so grateful that she was briefly in the moment, not worrying or hallucinating or ruminating on what all had been taken from her. When the bailiff called for us, we were both wiping tears from our eyes. There was an equalization that had occurred between us with this exchange.
 
That client was exploited and abused in every possible way before the guardianship was in place. The trauma continued to be inflicted upon her, even as we were trying to unravel the exploitation and applying safeguards. To laugh with her gave us a momentary escape from the trauma and another chance to keep moving forward in her best interests. 
What is a good tip for those considering guardianship for a loved one?
Light Bulb
 
It is natural to have a nervous feeling about guardianship, because it occurs within the court system, the most formal setting most of us ever encounter. Attorneys can help walk families through this system. For anyone new to the guardianship process, the national standards of practice, or any applicable state standards, will be crucial. These create a roadmap and with guardianship people may get access to services they would not otherwise have. Certified guardians receive training in how to access resources, and can do great work for those in need.
 
- Arin 
We hope these articles are informative for you. Please keep in mind  that some of the views expressed are not necessarily the opinions or  philosophies of other FSGA members. We recommend hiring a guardian  that is a good fit for you.
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