Tips and Reminders to Help You with Your Investigation
The following list is not meant to be “all inclusive” of things to do as a GAL volunteer but a few basic tips and reminders for our newer GALs and a refresher for our more seasoned GALs.
Read the court documents and other documents received/uploaded. The initial documents that are filed in the case will have very useful information, i.e., shelter petition and order, dependency petition, family functioning assessment (FFA) and/or the pre-disposition study (PDS), and CBHA. By reading these documents, you will have a better understanding of the issues in the case. (Keep in mind, unless there has been a trial, the assertions in the petitions are allegations) It is important to check GAL Program database for new documents or entries on a regular basis throughout the case.
Documentation, records and releases. Document contacts in GAL Program database. You should include the date, time, means of contact (if via phone-list number called or if in person, the location) name, information obtained, and what you observed. It is important to also document unsuccessful attempts at contact. Request records directly from the service providers and schools. Ongoing requests and contacts with the child’s daycare provider, teachers, relatives, and counselor/therapist is important to get progress updates. Ask the parents to sign releases for their service providers and periodically check for updates. Make sure that any documents you receive are uploaded or provided to the GAL Program to upload into our database on the case. Notify your CAM and Attorney right away if the parents will not sign releases or you have any issues obtaining records for the child or parents.
Maintain contact with the child. Meet and maintain contact with the child and assess their needs. Among the many topics you may discuss with child, always ask if they want to attend court and what are their wishes. We are statutorily required to provide this information to the court. This information should also be included in the JR report. If the child can speak or their physical actions indicate their wishes, this information should be documented and provided to the court. Additionally, don’t make promises you are unable to follow through with or promise to keep “in confidence” a communication made to you. Notify your CAM and Attorney right away if you are unable to get access to the child.
Maintain contact with the case manager. Tell the case manager that you want to be contacted about any issues that arise regarding the child. Generally, you will be able to work with the case manager in a cooperative manner. However, it is important to remember that the case manager may have a different opinion regarding recommendations to the court. Notify your CAM and Attorney right away if you have made multiple attempts, phone and email, to contact the case manager and have not gotten a response.
Maintain contact with the child’s caregiver. The caregivers can be a source of information regarding the child’s needs. They will also usually know when visitation is scheduled and may have information regarding the child before and after visitation with the parents. Additionally, the caregiver may need help with an issue or service. We can assist the caregiver by bringing that issue to the case manager or the court’s attention. By assisting the caregiver in addressing any needs of the child and/or the caregiver, we can help maintain the placement and stability for the child until permanency can be achieved. Notify your CAM and Attorney right away if the caregiver is not allowing access to the child.
Maintain contact with the parents. Meet with the parents individually and at the beginning of the case when possible. The parents can be a source of information regarding the child, potential caregivers or individuals who could supervise their visitation. If they need help with an issue or service and we can bring this to the case manager or court’s attention. By assisting the parents in this manner, we can increase the likelihood of a successful reunification. Don’t promise to keep “in confidence” a communication made to you by a parent. If parent lives out of state or is incarcerated, communicate by phone or mail them a parent questionnaire with postage paid return envelope. (provided by GAL Program office)
Observe visitation between the child and their parents. Note how the child interacts with the parents. For example, does the child looks to the parents for comfort? Is the parent able to appropriately redirect the child? How does the child react at the end of the visitation? It is important not to immediately draw conclusions one way or another regarding your observations. Many factors contribute to the nature of the visit including the age of the child, duration and location of the visit. (For example a parent who only has one visit a month likely will not want to spend the visit redirecting and taking a disciplinary role. It can be difficult as well to engage a young child during a virtual visit. Often times a child who does not get to see their parent on a regular basis may be acting out during, or after, the visit because they feel angry, abandoned, and/or upset). Notify your CAM and Attorney right away if the child has not gotten visits with the parents for reasons other than the parents not engaging or requesting. Also, let the CAM and Attorney know if you have been unable to observe visitation for any reason. (scheduling issues, not notified, etc.)
Observe visitation between the child and their siblings. If possible, observe at least a couple sibling visitations to determine if there are any issues or concerns that need to be addressed. It is also important to inquire if the sibling visitation is occurring as ordered by the court. Notify your CAM and Attorney right away if the sibling visits are not occurring as ordered.
Independently verify the parents’ progress with case plan tasks. Ask the parents to sign releases in order to obtain information directly from their service providers. Notify your CAM and Attorney right away if the parents will not sign releases.
Meet with your GAL team. Meet with your CAM and the Attorney prior to hearings and any other time you have issues to address regarding your case. During this meeting, the team will generate a plan of action to address the concerns and take steps to achieve permanency for the child.
Kristi Salyers, Esq.
Managing Attorney, Pinellas/Pasco Counties
Modified/Updated/Content Added for 2021
(Original article December 2019
Jepera Hvidberg, Esq.,
Senior Program Attorney, Pinellas County)