(Minnesota) 10 Children File Class Action Lawsuit After Child Protection System Fails to Keep Them Safe

(May 31, 2017) A civil rights class action lawsuit has been filed in U.S. District Court against Hennepin County and several Hennepin County and State of Minnesota officials implementing its child protective system and the Minnesota Department of Human Services for its failures and actions that caused further harm to children under its care.

Read the lawsuit here: T.F. v Hennepin County

The lawsuit is known as T.F. v Hennepin County. According to the lawsuit, “Hennepin County is failing to live up to its responsibilities, and Defendants have long been aware that its child protection system has devolved into a confusing, underfunded, and erratic system that inflicts harm on the children it serves on a widespread and measurable basis.” (p.3) Research suggests that Hennepin County’s child protective system may be the most deficient in the nation.

The lawsuit is filed on behalf of 10 minor children (p. 5-6). The lawsuit defends two classes of children “who are or will be the subject of reports of suspected child abuse or neglect made to Hennepin County, who are or will be under the protective supervision of, or in the custody of Hennepin County, or who are under the guardianship of the Commissioner of Human Services”.

The children are represented by Faegre Baker Daniels LLP, with a team headed by James L. Volling; Marcia Robinson Lowry, executive director A Better Childhood (ABC) a non-profit dedicated to reforming child welfare systems across the country and Eric Heckler, a New York civil rights litigator.

The sad stories of these children ages 4 to 14 years old are detailed in the lawsuit on pages 12-43. Several of the children have been physically harmed in foster care, all have been traumatized, and none of the children have been placed in a safe, permanent home.

The lawsuit alleges that the Hennepin County child protective system is failing children in the following ways:

  • Failed to properly investigate reports of child abuse or neglect
  • Failed to provide appropriate services to children and their families
  • Failed to provide safe and appropriate foster care placements for children.
  • When removed from homes, children often hang in limbo in shelter care or emergency shelters and/or poorly managed or dangerous group homes and foster homes. This is traumatic for children, and is destabilizing.
  • Failed to provide safe, secure permanent homes for children who can’t be returned to their own homes
  • Many children are returned to unsafe home environments where they are re-abused, and then re-enter the system. An even higher percentage of children re-enter foster care in Hennepin County after having been reunited with their parents. Research shows that in 2016, 16.2% of children re-entered foster care within 12 months of leaving, this re-entry rate is nearly double the federal standard, which is 8.3%.
  • Hennepin County has failed to find permanent homes for children who are placed for adoption they linger in the system for years as wards of the state or age out of the system without ever have found permanent placement.
  • Case workers lack adequate training or support needed to carry out their responsibilities. Further, case workers are assigned to caseloads in excess of national standards and do not have desks to which they are regularly assigned to work. Generally, morale is low and turnover is high.
  • Hennepin County screens out or fails to properly investigate far too many reports of abuse or neglect of children.
  • Investigation and assessments are incomplete or poor quality.

As a result of these failures, the lawsuit claims, the health, safety and well-being of children is endangered. Basically a child who is taken into state care faces a fate that is no better than the abuse and neglect they have been removed from.

Similar sentiments were echoed by CPS Whistleblower, Carlos Morales who is a former Texas CPS investigator. Morales says, “…in foster homes you have a way higher chance of being raped, molested, abused and killed than you do in an actual home where you are already being abused…what I found is that the situations we removed them from were not more helpful…” Morales is careful to note that not every foster home is bad and not every foster parent is bad but the system as a whole is failing children, and families. Morales says that financial incentives increase the odds of corruption occurring within CPS. Morales also says that incentives promote labeling children with psychiatric diagnosis and drugging them rather than offering any real understanding, support or care for the children.

In a troubling essay titled “I’m Guilty of Child Kidnapping for the State” Morales further elaborates: “I’m guilty of working for an organization that has hampered freedom throughout the United States, and has caused millions of parents to live in fear. I’m guilty of working for an agency that has done more to carry out the war on drugs than the war against child abuse. I’m guilty of working for an agency that has kidnapped children, thrown them in to foster homes, and destroyed their lives. I’m guilty of working for CPS. Within CPS, I did not help children, I hurt. I did not protect families, I helped ruin them. I did not work to benefit society, instead I helped imprison it. I’m Guilty of Child Kidnapping for the State

The lawsuit asks the District Court to certify the case as a class action on behalf of the children and to find that the defendants have violated these children’s constitutional, federal and state law rights. Improvements to the child protection system are also offered in the request for relief (p. 88-91).

FOR MORE INFORMATION: 

Class Action Lawsuit Filed Against Hennepin County Over Child Protection (KSTP News)

TEN MINNESOTA CHILDREN BRING FEDERAL CLASS ACTION AGAINST HENNEPIN COUNTY AND STATE FOR FAILING TO KEEP THEM SAFE

A Better Childhood

Posted in Child Abuse, Child Protection/CPS, Legal and News | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Letting Down Their Guard: What Guardian ad Litems Should Know About Domestic Violence in Child Custody Disputes

The batterer’s desire to regain power and control in the relationship provides a subtext to child custody litigation involving a history of domestic violence. 

Awareness of that subtext is critical if GALs are to assume the task of determining whether custody and visitation arrangements will contribute to the children’s safety and healing, or will instead create an opportunity for batterers to continue to control and victimize their former partners and children. Nevertheless, actors in the legal system, including GALs, continue to overlook the connections between domestic violence and custody disputes…” ~ Cynthia Grover Hastings

 

Title: Letting Down Their Guard: What Guardian ad Litems Should Know About Domestic Violence in Child Custody Disputes

Author: Cynthia Grover Hastings, family law attorney from Massachusetts

Summary: This article examines the role of Guardian ad Litems (GAL) in family court cases that involve domestic violence (DV) and exposes the failures in the GAL program that place the lives of children, and victimized parents at risk.

“Letting Down Their Guard” concludes with recommendations on how to improve training for GALs, and ways to increase their skill set in areas involving domestic violence and its impact on children. It also offers insight on how a GAL, and by extension program managers, can improve the handling of cases involving domestic violence.

Guardian ad Litems are appointed by the court to advocate for children and to make recommendations concerning visitation and custody. Courts are required to appoint a GAL in cases involving domestic violence or in cases of alleged child abuse and neglect. It is also becoming more common for courts to appoint GALs in cases deemed “high conflict”, especially where one party is self-represented.

NOTE: Self-represented parties are often labelled as being “burdensome” and “difficult” and “complex” by the court system and it has become an acceptable solution to appoint a GAL to these types of cases to figure things out. I would argue that appointing a GAL to a case simply because one party is self-represented is inappropriate, discriminatory and requires a GAL to act outside the scope of their duties. A GAL has specific mandated duties if a family needs services outside of that, and it is an issue that does not jeopardize the health or well-being of a child, community resources and legal resources can be utilized to meet the needs of the parties.

A majority of cases that a GAL is appointed to involve some form of domestic violence or child abuse yet, Hastings cites research and an actual family court case to show evidence that many GALs lack the education or training to properly handle cases involving domestic violence,Considering their role in custody cases, it is disquieting that guardians ad litem (GALs) are often unaware of the dynamics of domestic violence or insensitive to its impact on children…When GALs lack understanding or are simply inattentive to the repercussions of partner abuse, they may adversely affect a significant number of custody decisions.”

Hastings says that a GAL program does not live up to its potential to protect the interests of children affected by violence but believes the flaws in the system should be acknowledged and addressed rather than abolish the system as a whole. To terminate the GAL program, Hastings says, would put already vulnerable children even more at risk because they would have absolutely no protection in legal proceedings at all.

Hastings believes that a GAL does have the potential to be a positive impact in the life of a child. She says that GAL could also be an important voice in making sure the courts are aware of a family history of violence and using their investigation to determine how the violence has affected the child, and making recommendations that address safety concerns with the children and victimized parent.

In “Letting Their Guard Down”, Hastings discusses:

  • A historical look at the judicial system’s use of GALs to protect the interest of children
  • The widespread effect of domestic violence, including how DV manifests after separation, including in a legal setting, this section will”look more closely at the epidemic of battering, incidents of separation assault, the relationship between custody litigation and domestic violence, and how battering affects the children who are exposed to it.”
  • Why the influence of GALs in cases involving DV tend to be more problematic than helpful for the children the GALs are meant to protect
  • Offers model guidelines for GALs to increase the safety of children and parent-victims of domestic violence that are involved in family court proceedings 

     I think “Letting Down Their Guard” should have gone further to discuss. 

    • Issues with the management of the GAL program – their supervision of GALs, and ability to detect and/or correct problems. There is an overall need for increased accountability in the GAL program. 
    • The Complaint Process – does not acknowledge that a parent has a right to file a complaint against a GAL if they feel they, or the child, have been mistreated. And does not offer recommendations for a complaint process to be filed vs a GAL or offer guidance on any disciplinary measures

“Letting Down Their Guard” is an excellent article…and would highly recommend for its comprehensive research on domestic violence and family court issues. 

Posted in Child Abuse, Family Court, Guardian ad Litem | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Update from MN Office of the Legislative Auditor: GAL Roundtable Discussion

Public Domain Image http://www.pd4pic.com

There is still time to provide written comments concerning the Guardian ad Litem Program!  

You may contact Jodi Munson Rodríguez, program evaluation manager by e-mail at: jodi.rodriguez@state.mn.us

________________

An update from the MN Office of the Legislative Auditor (OLA)  about the 2017 audit of the Guardian ad Litem programOLA Minnesota

Roundtable Discussion: Guardians Ad Litem, Monday, May 15, 1:00 p.m., Room 300N, State Office Building.

Address: State Office Building
100 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
Saint Paul, MN 55155

State Office Building – Directions, Parking, General Info

OLA has released this statement concerning the Roundtable Discussion:

Interested Stakeholders:

The Minnesota Office of the Legislative Auditor (OLA) is beginning a program evaluation of the Guardians ad Litem program. We are seeking input from stakeholders like you as we begin developing our evaluation questions and the scope of our research activities.

OLA is a nonpartisan audit and evaluation office in the legislative branch of Minnesota state government.  We evaluate programs’ activities to determine how effectively and efficiently programs, as a whole, are fulfilling their missions.  We do not have the resources to investigate individual cases or the authority to conduct criminal investigations.  If you would like more information about OLA, click here to visit our homepage.

Our preliminary areas of study are:

  • How effectively the Guardians ad Litem program is governed
  • How well the Guardian ad Litem board recruits, trains, monitors, and evaluates guardians ad litem
  • The extent to which complaint and appeal processes are fair and effective

Depending on what we hear at the open forum, we may alter the focus of the evaluation.  Given the level of interest in this topic, we may need to limit the length of individual comments to ensure everyone who attends the forum has the opportunity to speak.

 If you are unable to attend the open forum or would like to provide written comments, please contact Jodi Munson Rodríguez, the program evaluation manager. You may reach her at jodi.rodriguez@state.mn.us.

The Round Table Discussion is an important opportunity to gain more information on the audit process and have your concerns heard.

 Note:  It is important for the public to keep in mind when providing information to the Evaluators that they are seeking information regarding the problems within the whole system of the MN State GAL Program.  Their focus will be on reviewing the system.  There has been a common pattern of GAL problems affecting so many parents and children in family court, making it quite easy for the public to identify and compile this information to give to the Evaluators.  This focus area will have the most benefit and impact on the audit process.  Think about this as you prepare your input.

For more information about the role of a Guardian ad Litem, and their mandated duties please visit: Role of the Guardian ad Litem (GAL)

For More Info:

Breaking News: MN Guardian ad Litem Program to be Audited

(Minnesota) NOTICE: Public Will Have Input Into 2017 Audit of GAL Program

OLA Guardian ad Litem Topic Selection Background Paper April 2017

Posted in Family Court, Guardian ad Litem, Legal and News, Meetings & Events, Minnesota Guardian ad Litem, Parents in Family Court | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

MN Guardian Ad Litem Board Admits – Abuser Awarded Custody, then Removes Evidence from Website

Did the Minnesota State Guardian ad Litem Board, and Suzanne Alliegro (State Program Administrator) delete case history off the GAL Board website in order to cover up evidence that a GAL recommended change of custody to an abuser and labelled the victim as paranoid after she raised abuse allegations? Shocking e-mail exchange with Alliegro along with screen shots of the original website released… 

This case is discussed in further detail at: MN GAL Board Boasts: Abuser Gains Custody – Victim Labelled ‘Paranoid’ Forced Out of Kid’s Lives

Suzanne Alliegro says during the e-mail exchange concerning this case that,”If you are interested in getting more information on the case, I will check to get the file number, status of the case and where you can get more information.” The facts being reported about this case are concerning enough to warrant an investigation. Alliegro has agreed to release information, which should be done but in a way that protects the privacy of the family involved. The Auditor’s Office and NCSC Consultants should also be given access to information concerning this case.

The website for the MN State Guardian ad Litem Board looks very different today than it did back in 2015, and the case histories now included on the current website have all been totally revised. What prompted this change? Documentation gathered from viewing the State GAL website history and gathered from an e-mail exchange between a concerned citizen and Suzanne Alliegro indicate that the website was changed soon after a citizen alerted Alliegro to a concerning case involving domestic abuse that resulted in the victim losing custody to an identified abuser, and then becoming estranged from her children’s lives. The case that Alliegro was questioned about in the e-mail was promptly removed from the State GAL Board website after concerns were raised about the GAL’s handling of the case. 

The Case History in question reads:

  • Change of Custody to Father
    A GAL had been appointed for two pre-teen girls in a marriage dissolution case where there had been some domestic abuse between the parents.  Throughout the case, the GAL grew increasingly concerned about the mother’s mental health.  The mother demonstrated increased paranoia and made multiple allegations against the father.  Eventually, the GAL recommended a change in custody to the father with the mother having supervised parenting time.  The children began to stabilize when they were placed in their father’s care.  The mother continued to struggle with mental health issues and did not keep the supervised visits.  The involvement of the GAL helped bring the case to resolution and provided the court with much-needed information regarding the best interests of the children.

After reading this troubling story, a concerned citizen contacted Suzanne Alliegro to ask how case histories are selected for the GAL website, and also questioned the GAL’s handling of the domestic abuse issues in this case (full letter posted below). Questions asked of Alliegro included:

  • The story says there has been some domestic abuse between the parents but does not indicate that there was any treatment or intervention for the identified perpetrator of abuse. Can you clarify what happened?
  • It also says the GAL is concerned about the mother’s mental health and was identified as being paranoid, did the GAL have any degrees or training to make such a diagnosis? And what is done to differentiate between a real mental health issue and something that may be a result of domestic violence and/or trauma?
  • I also find it interesting that it is reported that the children began to “stabilize” after being taken from their mother, put into their father’s care and then ordered into supervised visits with the mother. How is that possible that such a huge transition would stabilize a child? Did the children receive any therapy or aftercare?

Alliegro responds that since the State GAL website was launched over 5 years ago (quote), “..so the case histories are somewhat dated as we have not replaced them since the website inception.Dated? The date that this case happened has nothing to do with the conduct of the GAL appointed to the case. The wording does, however, suggest that Alliegro is making excuses to  justify removing the case history from the State GAL Board website…which would also cover up the existence of this case, and possible misconduct by the GAL.

When asked about the case history, Alliegro responds,”The case histories are meant to provide a sample of the type of cases and issues handled by a guardian ad litem and are not meant to provide all details of a particular case and all information gathered by the guardian ad litem.” That may be the case but the few details being reported in this case should be a concern to the Program Manager, and the GAL Board. The job of the GAL is to advocate for the best interest of children and make recommendations that would ensure their safety – instead, in this case, the GAL is advocating for an abuser! Instead of concern the Minnesota GAL program boasts of this tragic case where an abuse victim is punished after she “made multiple allegations (of abuse) against the father“, and then loses custody to an identified abuser as being a success story. “Multiple allegations” should be investigated with the safety of the children being a priority… what has to happen to the children before they are protected? Children should be removed from an unsafe environment not left in the care and custody of abusive parent. 

Responding to the question about the GAL possibly diagnosing a mental health issue, Alliegro says, “A guardian ad litem does not make mental health diagnoses but typically provides the court information from qualified professionals..” In this case, the GAL was making a mental health determination based on her own opinion – not utilizing a professional. Going back to the case history,”The mother demonstrated increased paranoia ..” That is a first hand reporting from the GAL.

The case mentioned here is not unique – there are an untold number of similar stories happening to both women and men, mothers and fathers, dealing with the failures and corruption happening GAL program in every part of Minnesota. Signficant problems in the GAL program have gone unchecked for over 22 years. In the year 2016 alone, around 17,000 children in Minnesota were represented by a Guardian ad Litem in about 8,000 cases. Take that number times 22 years…there could be tens of thousands of victims of the GAL program in Minnesota alone. It is time we as citizens, as parents, and as a Legislative body make serious efforts to reform the GAL program and work to better protect children from systemic abuse, and stop the unjust removal of children from fit, loving parents.

MN GAL Board adopts “See no Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil ” Policy – Claiming ignorance of wrongdoing and misconduct rather than exposing it or taking responsibility. Public Domain Image: https://wall.alphacoders.com

Read for yourself:

from:
to: suzanne.alliegro@courts.state.mn.us
date: Mon, Sep 21, 2015 at 12:11 AM
subject: RE: GAL Case Histories and Articles

Hello Ms. Alliegro,

I have a comment about the “Case Histories and Articles” posted on the State GAL Board website. Not sure if you are the right person to direct my comment to, but your name popped up on the “Contact” tab.

I was looking over the State GAL Board website, and am interested in the Case Histories because they describe first hand what a Guardian does, and the results of their work.

How do you decide what stories to feature? And where do I go to find updates on the stories?

I also have some questions on the last story “Change of Custody to a Father”. The story says there has been some domestic abuse between the parents but does not indicate that there was any treatment or intervention for the identified perpetrator of abuse. Can you clarify what happened? It also says the GAL is concerned about the mother’s mental health and was identified as being paranoid, did the GAL have any degrees or training to make such a diagnosis? And what is done to differentiate between a real mental health issue and something that may be a result of domestic violence and/or trauma?

I also find it interesting that it is reported that the children began to “stabilize” after being taken from their mother, put into their father’s care and then ordered into supervised visits with the mother. How is that possible that such a huge transition would stabilize a child? Did the children receive any therapy or aftercare?

Any additional info you could provide would be much appreciated.

Thank You,

from: Alliegro, Suzanne<Suzanne.Alliegro@courts.state.mn.us>
to:  
date: Tue, Sep 22, 2015 at 1:51 PM
subject: RE: GAL Case Histories and Articles
mailed-by: courts.state.mn.us

Good afternoon Mr.,

We initially launched the website over five years ago so the case histories are somewhat dated as we have not replaced them since the website inception.   Given that five years have passed, I do not remember the criteria we used to determine which cases were to be placed on the website.   The case histories are meant to provide a sample of the type of cases and issues handled by a guardian ad litem and are not meant to provide all details of a particular case and all information gathered by the guardian ad litem.  

Regarding an update on what happened with the case, it is highly doubtful that a guardian ad litem is still assigned to the case as our appointments in a family court case are typically for six months with some being shorter and some longer.  If you are interested in getting more information on the case, I will check to get the file number, status of the case and where you can get more information.  

A guardian ad litem does not make mental health diagnoses but typically provides the court information from qualified professionals such as psychologists, therapists, etc. regarding treatment and services the child and parents may be receiving while the guardian ad litem is assigned to the case.

Thank you for your email as it serves to remind us we should be more up to date with the website information.

from:
to: “Alliegro, Suzanne” <Suzanne.Alliegro@courts.state.mn.us>
date: Wed, Sep 30, 2015 at 8:56 PM
subject: Re: GAL Case Histories and Articles

Hello Ms. Alliegro,

Thank you for your thoughtful reply. I am very interested in the how the GAL program meets the needs of the families it serves because I am volunteering with high risk families, and some are dealing with family court issues.

RE: If you are interested in getting more information on the case, I will check to get the file number, status of the case and where you can get more information.

I would appreciate any additional information on this case that you could offer.

Regards,

Original Web Address: http://mn.gov/guardian-ad-litem/Program_Info/case_histories_articles.jsp

Original Location: Minnesota State Guardian ad Litem Board webpage. Menu Program Information. Tab Case Histories and Articles.

Posted in Child Abuse, Family Court, Guardian ad Litem, Minnesota Guardian ad Litem, Parents in Family Court | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

19 YEAR-OLD SUES FOR DEPRIVATION OF CIVIL RIGHTS (Repost Red Herring Alert)

(Minnesota): A Nineteen-Year-Old who was traumatized and hurt by family court failures sues her Father, Hennepin and Carver Counties, along with Social Workers, Guardians at litem, and lawyers for an excess of $240 Million for Deprivation of Civil Rights.

The defendants conspired to deny Annelise access to the courts and intentionally inflicted emotional distress on Annelise while she was still a minor. Defendants knowingly interfered with Annelise’s constitutional right to a relationship with her mother and four siblings, causing inordinate stress and difficulty.

Annelise asks the court for relief in an amount great enough to deter defendants and others in similar positions from engaging in this egregious misconduct in the future.

This lawsuit could potentially turn into a class action suit, because of the amount of families that have been mistreated in this way.

Red Herring Alert

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Minnesota Nineteen-Year-Old sues her Father, Hennepin and Carver Counties, along with Social Workers, Guardians at litem, and lawyers for an excess of $240 Million for Deprivation of Civil Rights

03/17/2017 Minneapolis, MN, US

Annelise Rice, a hockey player at UND and graduate of Minnetonka High School, filed a lawsuit on March 17, 2017, in Minnesota federal court seeking damages for deprivation of civil rights by tortuous intervention in a mother-child relationship and deprivation of rights under color of the law (Civil Action No. 17-cv-796 ADM/HB).

Annelise’s father, Brent Rice, branch manager of Merrill Lynch Wayzata, is a defendant on the lawsuit. Employees of Hennepin County (Michael Borowiak, Jolene Lukanen, Michael Garelick, Richard Witucki, Judith Hoy, Jean Peterson) and Carver County (Nicole Mercil, Bethany Koch, Sarah Kulesa, Brenda K. Dehmer, Carole Cole), and Brent Rice’s lawyer, Cory D. Gilmer, are also listed among the eighteen defendants. The defendants…

View original post 328 more words

Posted in Child Abuse, Family Court, Guardian ad Litem, Legal and News, Minnesota Guardian ad Litem | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CPS Workers, Union Sue Ramsey County – Ask for Whistleblower Protection

Public Domain: http://www.cqsisu.com

(Ramsey County, Minnesota) In the midst of efforts to reform the troubled child protection system, a local union is suing Ramsey County in an effort to raise awareness of the county’ s “broken child-protection system.”

The lawsuit emanates from complaints that management has interfered with employee’s rights, that workers are so overburdened with caseloads that they fear an at-risk child will get lost in the system, and say they face retaliation when raising concerns.

Jennifer Munt, public affairs director for AFSCME Minnesota Council 5 says the union is fighting for whistle blower protection for the CPS workers,”We are seeking a temporary injunction against the county because supervisors have threatened and disciplined social workers who question the county’s child protection system.

A hearing is scheduled to take place on the current lawsuit on April 25.

Read the article in full for more information on the lawsuit and complaint: Union sues, claims Ramsey County has a ‘broken child-protection system’

 

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MN GAL Board Boasts: Abuser Gains Custody – Victim Labelled ‘Paranoid’ Forced Out of Kid’s Lives

SEE here ONLY on A Call to Action Blog – A case history was intentionally deleted from the Minnesota State Guardian ad Litem webpage (in 2015) AFTER Suzanne Alliegro, State Program Administrator, was questioned about the actions of the GAL in this case by a concerned citizen.  

The tragic results of this Guardian’s reckless disregard for the safety of the children, and dismissal of abuse allegations, resulted in a fit, loving parent losing custody to an abuser and then becoming estranged from the lives of her children. And if that is not bad enough, this case is proudly placed on the web page of the Minnesota State Guardian ad Litem Board as a success story. This case illustrates the serious need for investigation of the troubled GAL program, an audit could not come soon enough: Breaking News: MN Guardian ad Litem Program to be Audited

The attitude of the GAL assigned to this family court case has placed the lives of these children at a higher risk of harm than if the children had stayed in the abuse, and the family never entered family court in the first place. The risk of harm is higher because the legal system is now enabling the abuser, has stripped the protective parent of her rights – and effectively denied her any legal avenue to remedy the great injustice perpetrated against her, and the children. Children who had once been removed from an abusive, dysfunctional home for their safety would be put back into the abuse by court order. The children would likely be re-traumatized, and continued to be exposed to substantial harm. It is appalling that a GAL would say this is in the “best interest” of the children. 

In part two of this article you will see evidence that when a concerned citizen raised questions about the GAL’s handling of this case to State Program Administrator, Suzanne Alliegro, the case history was quickly removed from the website and replaced with other stories. Is the Minnesota GAL Board engaging in a cover up of program failures that has placed the lives of children at risk?

When taking a deeper look at this case history, the misconduct and reckless disregard for the well-being of children committed by this GAL become obvious. While it would be easy to find fault with the GAL alone, the management (State GAL Board, District Manager) also needs to take responsibility for their role in this case – that the Board condones this kind of behavior, and sees it as model for exemplary conduct by a GAL, is frightening.

FULL TEXT: Change of Custody to Father

  • A GAL had been appointed for two pre-teen girls in a marriage dissolution case where there had been some domestic abuse between the parents.  Throughout the case, the GAL grew increasingly concerned about the mother’s mental health.  The mother demonstrated increased paranoia and made multiple allegations against the father.  Eventually, the GAL recommended a change in custody to the father with the mother having supervised parenting time.  The children began to stabilize when they were placed in their father’s care.  The mother continued to struggle with mental health issues and did not keep the supervised visits.  The involvement of the GAL helped bring the case to resolution and provided the court with much-needed information regarding the best interests of the children.

In family court cases involving allegations that a child is a victim to domestic violence, neglect or abuse the appointment of a Guardian ad Litem is mandatory due to safety concerns. The role of the GAL includes investigating the facts of the case (which include abuse allegations) and representing the child’s best interests in court proceedings 518.165 GUARDIANS AD LITEM FOR MINOR CHILDREN.

In this case it is reported that there quote “had been some domestic abuse between the parents.” The use of the word “some” in this report minimizes the impact violence has had on the children, and the family. Examine the statement carefully -what does “some domestic abuse” mean? The harmful effects of domestic violence has on a child is NOT determined by a number alone. The word “some” does not account for the trauma and toxic stressors, and other consequences of domestic violence, that will cause damage to a child at any level of exposure. Exposure to domestic violence also puts children at a much higher risk of experiencing child abuse or neglect.  There is no “some” – domestic violence happened, period. Domestic violence is the reason why a GAL was appointed to this case; unfortunately for these children things were about to get much worse.

The second error in this statement is the phrase “domestic abuse between the parents. The lack of domestic violence training the GAL program offers is evident in this appallingly ignorant statement. Domestic violence is NOT mutual but rather involves an intentional, and systemic pattern of power and control perpetrated by one person (the abuser) over another (the victim). Abuse can take many forms including physical, sexual, emotional, psychological, financial and using the children as a weapon against the other parent after separation, which is called Domestic Violence (DV) by Proxy. DV by Proxy means the children are used as leverage to gain power and control over the victim the abuser no longer has access to, or children are used to hurt or retaliate against the victim. DV by Proxy often includes forms of legal abuse, including the abuser filing for sole custody or filing frivolous lawsuits or making false allegations to incite legal action against the victim. The way this statement is phrased implies the victim is complicit in the abuse or somehow is at fault for the abuse. It is important to analyze what the GAL is thinking (I assume the statement was taken from the GAL’s files or notes) in order to understand what happened next and how the role of the GAL impacted this case.

The GAL completely fails to recognize the existence of domestic violence, and how it manifests, and instead of protecting the children involved, begins to target the mother who is trying to keep the children safe from abuse. ALL of this is being admitted publicly, on the State GAL Board website,”Throughout the case, the GAL grew increasingly concerned about the mother’s mental health.  The mother demonstrated increased paranoia and made multiple allegations against the father.” Note the GAL is more concerned about the mother’s mental health than the safety and well being of two vulnerable pre-teen girls. If the GAL did have concerns about the mother’s mental health the context of domestic violence should be considered… it is NOT paranoid to be afraid, anxious or apprehensive when dealing with, and being forced to co-parent with, an abuser. That is an understandable reaction to the violence that has happened in the relationship.

Second, abuse itself creates a number of adverse effects – that does not mean a victim is mentally ill or unfit to parent. The greater concern should be on the risk of violence, and the safety of the children. Instead of blaming the victim, the abuser should be held accountable for his own actions. But that is not what happened here. The GAL accuses the mother, who is the victim, of “paranoia” after she “made multiple allegations” (of abuse or safety concerns). You can imagine how terrified the mother would likely be having experienced abuse, and that her children may have been abused – to now be faced with a GAL who refuses to investigate and is punishing her for reporting abuse. As a mandated reporter, the GAL should have filed a report of those allegations with CPS or a supervisor, and NOT have labeled the mother as “mentally ill”.

The GAL then uses the “multiple allegations” raised to justify stripping the mother of custody and sending the teen girls to go live with an abuser, “Eventually, the GAL recommended a change in custody to the father with the mother having supervised parenting time.” The abuser now goes free, and the victim is being punished for trying to protect her children.

Remember a family history of “domestic abuse” was noted; meaning it has already been established that the children have been put at risk or have been harmed. The GAL was appointed to the case to deal with abuse issues but instead pursued a mental health witch hunt against the protective parent… leaving the children totally vulnerable, and placing them in harm’s way. This is unacceptable. In California there are state laws that offer protection to parents who have concerns of child abuse or neglect and make a report of abuse – filing a complaint or notifying an authority is not grounds alone to remove custody. The same laws should be enacted in Minnesota.

The madness continues when the Case History includes this comment: “The children began to stabilize when they were placed in their father’s care.” An abuser gaining total power and control over a victim is not stabilization. Also, there is no factual information or evidence to support this statement is even true. All we have to go on is the GAL’s word, and that has already proven to be unreliable.

The teen girls soon become estranged from their mother,” The mother continued to struggle with mental health issues and did not keep the supervised visits.” Any parent who has their children forcefully removed from their care and placed into an unsafe situation would struggle. The only one demonstrating “mental health issues” in this whole story is the GAL, and the GAL management that refuses to acknowledge any problems with this scenario. That the mother “did not keep the supervised visits” does not mean she did not want to see her children or that she does not love her children. There may have been restrictions in the court order preventing visits from happening. Supervised visits are also tremendously expensive – and she may not have been able to afford the costs. It is clear that the GAL’s involvement has completely devastated this family. But instead the GAL program reports, “The involvement of the GAL helped bring the case to resolution and provided the court with much-needed information regarding the best interests of the children.” The results have not been determined because the GAL program operates in secrecy, and offers very little public reporting. Also at the time this case history was published, there was no GAL complaint procedure in place.

The GAL has demonstrated very little knowledge or training on domestic violence and made recommendations that placed the lives of two teen girls at risk, and contributed to a mother being removed from the lives of her children. Domestic violence issues were not resolved. And an abuser avoided all responsibility and gained a powerful new weapon against his victim, in the form of a GAL who enabled the abuse to continue. The victim is labeled paranoid and mentally ill which she will carry with her for the rest of court proceedings, the label will make it difficult for her to regain parenting time or custody, and will likely prejudice the judge (and other professionals) against her case. The children are also being sent the message that something is wrong with their mother, and that she does not want to see them. Just as appalling the Program Manager and State Program Administrator, Suzanne Alliegro, reinforce the mishandling of this case by failing to take any action and now PROMOTE this kind of unprofessional, and frankly, dangerous, behavior by slapping it on the State GAL Board website as a success story.

The case mentioned here is not unique – there are an untold number of similar stories happening to both women and men, mothers and fathers, dealing with the failures and corruption happening GAL program in every part of Minnesota. Signficant problems in the GAL program have gone unchecked for over 22 years. In the year 2016 alone, around 17,000 children in Minnesota were represented by a Guardian ad Litem in about 8,000 cases. Take that number times 22 years…there could be tens of thousands of victims of the GAL program in Minnesota alone. It is time we as citizens, as parents, and as a Legislative body make serious efforts to reform the GAL program and work to better protect children from systemic abuse, and stop the unjust removal of children from fit, loving parents.

 

 

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