What is a Guardian ad Litem?
Guardian ad Litem (GAL) is a trained volunteer who is appointed by the court to advocate for the best interests of an abused or neglected child. In court, the GAL serves as an important voice for the child.
Who can be a Guardian ad Litem?
Guardian ad Litem volunteers come from all walks of life and have a variety of professional, educational and ethnic backgrounds. No special education or experience is required.
How will I know what to do?
The Guardian ad Litem offices across the state use a nationally recognized training program. You will learn all about the court system so that you will be confident when taking your first case.
Is being a Guardian ad Litem dangerous?
You will never be asked to do anything or go anywhere that makes you feel unsafe. You can take a social worker, another GAL staff member, or police officer on a home visit if you need to. You can also arrange meetings in public places, such as a restaurant or a DSS office.
I work full time. Can I still be a Guardian ad Litem?
Many of our volunteers have full-time jobs. Much of the work can be done on the weekend, in the evening, or on the telephone. You would need your employer’s permission to take off work when you have a court date (every three to six months, depending on the case).
What is the time commitment for a Guardian ad Litem?
The initial training program takes 30 hours to complete, offered in a variety of schedules for both daytime, evening, and web based formats. After you are assigned a case, you will spend 10-15 hours per month interviewing parties, reviewing reports, attending court (if scheduled that month), and visiting with the child. The time commitment varies from case to case but is generally flexible.
How many cases do I have to take?
We have no minimum number of cases for volunteers. Each GAL volunteer accepts only as many cases as he/she has time to handle.
Would I be liable for my work?
The North Carolina General Statutes shield volunteers from liability: “Any volunteer participating in a judicial proceeding…shall not be civilly liable for acts or omissions committed in connection with the proceeding if he/she acted in good faith and was not guilty of gross negligence.” N.C.G.S.§ 7A-493.
How is the Guardian ad Litem different from a social worker?
The social worker is an agent of the Department of Social Services (DSS). DSS also has legal custody of the child or children involved. DSS must, by federal and state laws, focus on the initially preserving the family unit while ensuring the safety of the child(ren). Everyone involved is focused on securing a safe, permanent home for each child. This goal can result in a number of scenarios such as: being able to return to parents, placement with relatives, adoption, or custody to foster parents or others. As a Guardian ad Litem, you focus entirely on the child, advocating for special services, investigating and identifying appropriate community resources, and being the child’s voice and best interest advocate in court.
Will I have to testify in court?
It is possible, though most of the time the people who are called to testify are those with first-hand knowledge, such as the social worker or a doctor. If you do have to testify, the Attorney Advocate and GAL staff are there to prepare with you thoroughly.
I worry that the parents will resent me and be uncooperative.
It comes as a surprise to many people that the parents are usually more than glad to tell their version of the events that have caused this case to come before the court. As a GAL, you are just asking questions and listening at the outset, and most parents do not find this threatening.
May I take the child to a museum or a ball game?
No. Your role is not to provide services, but to investigate and observe, and to be an advocate in court. That in itself is an important gift to the child that requires objectivity. For this reason, you also must not give significant gifts to the child. Extra activities can be obtained for children in foster care through the Cape Fear Guardian ad Litem Association (CFGALA).