Volunteer Child Advocates
The Volunteer Guardian ad Litem Program Information
The Court appoints volunteers from the child advocate program to represent the best interests of children who are victims or alleged victims of sexual abuse, physical abuse or neglect.
Specially trained volunteers are appointed by Superior Court Judges to represent the children's best interests during dependency action brought against the parents. Though attorneys previously handled this function, it has been shown that properly trained volunteers can more effectively serve the child's best interests in the dependency process.
Child advocates assume no financial, legal, or custodial responsibilities for the child. Their role is limited to gathering and presenting information and speaking on behalf of the dependent child in Court. The Program's goal is to ensure that a child's right to a safe, permanent home is acted on by the Court in a sensitive and expedient manner.
Determining a Dependent Child
Dependent children are defined as those children who are under 18 years of age, who have no parent willing or capable of caring for them, or who are abandoned, abused, or neglected. A Guardian ad Litem may be appointed for these children to represent what is in their best interest to the Court during dependency process.
What is 'best interest' advocacy?
Best interest advocacy is where safety, permanency, and well-being intersect. The program's primary goal is family reunification, but where there is a conflict between the rights of the parent and the rights of the child, the child's rights should always prevail. 'Best interests' are not our own personal beliefs, but what is objectively best for the child.
Role of the Child Advocate
The child advocates serve in the Guardian ad Litem program - literally meaning "Guardian for the case." A child advocate is a person appointed by the court to represent a child(ren)'s best interest in a dependency matter. The child advocate is a full party to the matter and speaks for the child. After an investigation, the child advocate presents to the Court through written reports and oral testimony, what the advocate believes should be done for the child in this case.
To decide what is in the child's best interest, the guardian consults with the caseworker and interested parties in the case. The advocate also independently investigates the child's living situation, suggests alternative living arrangements, and identifies any special circumstances of the case. If indicated, the advocate consults with professional people such as social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, or neurologists. If the child is old enough to express his/her own feelings, the guardian considers such feelings as a primary though not deciding factor.
After an investigation has been made of the child's total life sphere, the advocate is then in a position of submitting a comprehensive report with recommendations to the Court. Since it is the welfare of the dependent child, which is at stake, the needs of these children must be understood by the child advocate. The prospective advocate must have a basic sensitivity toward others, a genuine interest in their problems, a realistic view of the children's needs and a commitment to the program.
Volunteer Guardian ad Litem Training
The Guardian ad Litem Training Program has three primary goals:
- To give the guardian specific guidelines as to the role and function of the child advocate;
- To impart knowledge of the San Juan County Juvenile Dependency System and the support services provided by the Guardian ad Litem Program; and
- To provide training in the necessary skills needed to perform the role of the child advocate, such as interviewing, report writing, and testifying. Case consultation, legal support and in-service training are provided to all volunteer advocates.