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Saturday, March 17, 2018

Duties

I've taken on a new case as a Guardian Ad Litem.  This morning I have to drive to Lake City, a town about 30 minutes from here, to meet two little boys and their dad. There's a court date on Tuesday to determine if he gets to keep the kids and to ask the judge to take away the mother's parental rights, as she's mentally ill and has been missing for a long time now. She may be dead for all anyone knows. There's been some question about whether or not the father is fit to raise the boys, so I have to go and check things out and prepare a report for court.

I've been dreading it (the visit). To people under investigation by child protective services, everyone assigned to the case is part of "the system". (Often people confuse a GAL with a DSS employee) It's kind of intimidating, going to a stranger's house to inquire into all sorts of personal family business during a time of crisis. I'm glad I arranged to go early (11am) so I can get it over with. I did speak to the father to arrange a time to visit, and he assured me he's willing to do whatever he needs to do to keep his children. He told me to come anytime it would be convenient for me, so that was reassuring, at least.

I have to take a personal day off work to be able to make the court date Tuesday. I wasn't able to make Kay's last court date because the GAL coordinator got a date mixed up and I had less than 24 hours notice to be there. Many of the volunteers are retired from paying jobs and so are able to accommodate things like short notice. I can't. Yesterday this was part of a group email that the volunteer coordinator (the one who mixed up the dates last time) sent out about next week's court docket:


Also I need you to be at these hearings the program has been frowned upon by the Judges and the Guardian attorney that too many Guardian are not being present for hearing, so I need you there; if you need a work excuse let me know I will provide this for you to give to your employer.


I felt slightly annoyed at that, considering it was his mistake that caused me and probably a couple of others to not be present last time. And that's another thing: it's difficult to have a paying job, with school hours, and be expected to work effectively as a GAL. I need to be meeting with guidance counselors and teachers of these school-aged kids that I'm trying to serve, and with limited personal days (only 2 per year) and the same work schedule the teachers and counselors have, that's tough. When I did my volunteer training, I still had the job in retail and I had much more flexibility in my schedule.

So I'm not sure how this all will work out. I'm committed to doing at least a year, and certainly things will be easier over the summer when I'm off. We'll see how the next six months go.

In the meantime, wish me luck this morning.

32 comments:

  1. I am anxious about you going to see that father and his two children on your own. I think you should be chaperoned - even if your chaperone steps outside to sit in the car. It sounds like the GAL co-ordinator needs to learn a few more home truths about people's regular work responsibilities and taking time off.

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    1. Thank you, Neil. Actually, Gregg was very anxious about it too. He's not comfortable with any of this and worries for my safety every time I go out on one of these visits. If I'm being entirely honest, I'm not 100% at ease with it, either.

      Everything was okay this time, though. A bit uncomfortable, and I'm not impressed with the boys' living conditions, but I never felt as if I was in danger.

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    2. That's a relief but I still wonder what the official GAL guidelines are about unaccompanied home visits.

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  2. I completely agree with Y.P. These folks are in a desperate situation and if they get a feel that the meeting is not going favorably can make poor decisions. Please take a chaperone.

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    1. Taking someone with me would be allowed, if they sat in the car, but that's easier said than arranged.

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  3. I wish you all the best luck and I hope for the absolute best outcome for these children.
    You are doing the holy work here.

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    1. I wish I felt like I was doing some holy work, but unfortunately I don't feel that way at all. I don't feel like I've made any difference at all so far. Thank you, though.

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  4. Good luck with it all - hope things go well for those children and you have time to fit it all in

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  5. Good luck Jennifer, and good luck to those little boys.

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    1. They were beautiful and endearing little guys, ages 5 and 8. I feel really sorry for them. They deserve a better childhood than they're getting.

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    2. I should add here that the father (and probably the mother) aren't bad people. They're just really poor black folks trying to survive the world they were born into themselves. Unfortunately, they don't have the means or the education to do better for their kids.

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  6. Wishing you good luck, as always.

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  7. This is a hard case, I hope it goes well.

    cheers, parsnip

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    1. I hope it's over with after Tuesday, honestly. It's hard enough to find times to meet with families that live here in Florence, much less a 30 minute drive away.

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  8. Jennifer, I wish I could send you a wall of luck. GAL's actually are paid here, by court order, though I wonder how often payment happens. I was required to get a GAL for my grandchildren, when I sued for custody. I paid her bill, as my SIL couldn't and my daughter wouldn't. We were in juvenile court, and all around me were cases like you describe, where the folks are just pushed along and their court ordered lawyers tell them what to do. I wondered who was in charge. I too think you need a chaperone, for everyone's protection, but who and where to find the person.

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    1. I think that in other parts of the country, a GAL is actually called CASA...court appointed special advocate. I have heard of paid GALs during custody disputes, but the ones appointed by the court for kids who have been or are in state custody are always volunteers in SC.

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  9. If I was headmaster of your school, I would see your GAL work as extra commitment to the wellbeing of children, and give you whatever time-off was needed.

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    1. If it was just a matter of leaving for an hour or two to go to a court hearing, I think the principal would let me do it "on the clock" so to speak. Unfortunately, when there are lots of cases on the docket (next Tuesday there are 12) you never know how long you may be there. I would stress out too much if I had to be gone a whole afternoon when I had only asked for an hour or two. I don't want to feel like I'm imposing on the goodwill of my employer.

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  10. My first thought was to worry about you going alone. Glad it turned out OK. Hope those little boys get the right result for their future life.

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  11. I hope your meeting goes (went?) well. Does the school know you are a GAL? Maybe they'd be willing to make extra accommodation for that, given that it has such an important community purpose. It's not like you're taking the day off to go to the beach.

    I can see why that e-mail annoyed you. Also, not to be bitchy, but can't the coordinator write a coherent sentence?

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    1. Ha! I had the same "bitchy" thought, Steve! He's pretty careless in his written communication as the above snippet of an email proves. I think he's capable of doing better, he just doesn't try very hard.

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  12. Oh, hope it went well. I admire you. I don't know if I could do it.

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    1. I don't know if I'll be able to continue to do it. I'm committed to at least a year, but so far I haven't been satisfied with how things have been.

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  13. Poor little boys, and I do hope their father can provide them at least with some kind of stability in their lives. Like the others here have said, I don't think a GAL should make home visits on his or her own; so many things can happen, even a small misunderstanding can have a big impact. Also, two people hear (and see) more than one so after the visit two GALs could compare notes of their impressions.
    Like Cro said, your employer should see your GAL work as an asset and make things as easy for you as possible.
    And just like Steve commented, I thought the coordinator's writing was poor, too... not that it should matter, but details can make such a difference.

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    1. Two GALs going together would be wonderful, but there just aren't enough of us to keep up with the demand. Some of the retired volunteers take on 2 or 3 cases at once, all the time.

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  14. You are making a big difference in these children’s lives. Bless you for taking on this very emotionally charged role to help this family.

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    1. That's the problem....I don't feel like I'm making any difference at all. My efforts seem so small in the grand scheme of things. Most of these families have numerous problems that are too big for a couple of volunteers to tackle. Poverty is the main issue in almost all of the cases.

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  15. A bit uncomfortable, and I'm not impressed with the boys' living conditions,ทางเข้า D2BET

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