Disclaimer: These notes are taken from public observation of the Minnesota State Guardian ad Litem Board Meeting, Feb. 11, 2016, at the Northern Service Center, Minnesota. These notes do not represent any official report or communication from the GAL Board.
The parents of A Call to Action ~ Together We Are Stronger attended the State GAL Board meeting in February, and would like to share with you a highlights of events.
The Board meetings are open to the public, you are welcome to join us at the next meeting . Contact us for more information about the Board meetings, or about our support and advocacy efforts for parents involved in family court litigation (and the GAL program) at:
pakcomments @ live . com
Two citizens offered comments during the open forum; out of respect for their privacy, identifying info has been omitted.
Citizen #1 offered their thoughts on the recent City Pages article (Susan Du) that featured a mother’s concerns with Guardian ad Litem, Susan Olson, and concerns with the program’s operations. What To Do When You Can’t Trust the GAL of Your Kids (City Pages)
Citizen #1 commented that there exists an “unhealthy alliance with the GAL and the family court”. Citizen #1 said that GALs commonly perform tasks that are outside of their statutory duties and that the program manager should routinely audit the work of Guardians or do a quality measure check on the actions of a Guardian, especially when complaints have been raised.
Citizen #2 is a parent who has been involved in family court litigation and whose child was appointed a GAL. Citizen #2 began an emotional testimony, where he offered various credentials to demonstrate that they are a fit parent, who is esteemed in the community, and has wrongly been deprived of any contact with the child for 1,500+ days. Citizen #2 claims they were unjustly removed from their child’s life due to the misconduct of a GAL.
Public comment was mistakenly cut off at 10 minutes, 5 minutes early from the scheduled time. It was suggested that Citizen #2 continue their comments at next month’s meeting.
There was a comment from the audience that it was “unfair” to cut Citizen #2’s testimony short, and the Board should let the person finish speaking. There was a comment from a member of the Board that said something to the effect of (this is a paraphrase) “You are allotted 10 minutes to speak. Maybe you should have spoken first. We have given ‘your group’ plenty of time to speak over the past year.”
The Minnesota Guardian ad Litem Board webpage clearly states, “The first 15 minutes of each Board meeting is open for members of the public to meet with the Board.” Citizen #2 was cut short 5 minutes of that time, which was not acknowledged until the end of the meeting.
It was concerning that Citizen #2 was referred to by the Board member as part of “your group”. The open forum is meant to be a short, allotted time for members of the public to offer thoughts or feedback to the Guardian ad Litem Board. It does not seem fair that any member of the public would be labeled as being part of a particular group, whether true or not. Listening to this comment made me feel like the person was being judged even before they spoke.
I believe that each comment offered to the Board should be listened to with an open mind, and taken as critical feedback from the program’s users. The focus, and priority of the GAL program, is the well-being of children, and securing the best possible outcome for children. Feedback and input from parents is important to understanding how the GAL programs works, and offers insights into how children fare after a GAL makes a determination. In Minnesota, there is no public study, record or information on how families fare after being involved in the GAL program. No surveys taken or data collected from parents, professionals or other users. So hearing different perspectives on the GAL program is important; more should be done to audit the program and track its outcomes.
The Guardian ad Litem meeting agenda for Feb 11, 2016, is posted on the website at: http://mn.gov/guardian-ad-litem/program-information/gal-board.jsp
Key issues discussed include:
** Budget Summary – Dealing with ongoing issues related to budget issues and use of available resources (this year the GAL program did not receive the full amount of funds it had requested, as additional resources have been allotted to reforming CPS).
** Complaint Process Revisions – A time frame will be added to the complaint process, and include language regarding the response time after a complaint has been received. Also, when a manager receives a complaint, a form will be sent back to describe the time frame and include steps on how to appeal. A vote was taken, and this measure was passed.
** Update on Meeting with Chief Justice (Judicial Council) –
Role of GAL in Family Court: The role of the GAL in family court was discussed. Also discussed was offering educational opportunities for judges about the role of the GAL in family court, and to address concerns that judges are asking Guardians to perform tasks outside of their mandated responsibilities. Specific examples of work a GAL should not do was discussed – work of a social worker, case manager, etc The Board will also meet with the implementation committee to stress the types of work a GAL should not be asked to do.There was also discussion that the Board and Judicial Branch would come together to determine a baseline of what is needed in family court, as far as GAL services.
Resources in Family Court: Judges want resources in family court. It was reported that the Judicial Council was emphatic that family court judges not be eliminated (this would imply permissive appointments; GALs are required for mandatory appointments involving child abuse, neglect or endangerment) – but instead be increased. The Judicial Council will oppose efforts to reduce GALs in family court and will push for additional funding to support the GAL program. The Judicial Council with work with the GAL Board to go to the legislature and the governors office to ask to increase the GAL budget. The Board sent a letter to Governor Dayton to ask for additional funds as well.
Brief Focused Assessment (BFA), A Possible Alternative?: The Board discussed the idea of Brief Focused Assessment (a pilot project was done in the 5th district) as a way to address issues in family court, while dealing with a limited budget. The Board considered whether BFA would be a cost effective way to utilize GAL resources.
(My comment: How this relates to the GAL program is unclear, as it against the mandated duties of a GAL to conduct a BFA??)
The Board discussed that it would be hard to tell how well BFA works, because there is not enough info available about it or its results, unless it is mandatory. A BFA can only become mandatory 1) if a judge court orders it or 2) changes are made in state law. A BFA can also be conducted if both parties agree to it, but many attorneys are hesitant to use it. Judges are often hesitant to court order a BFA because they do not feel that they have the authority to order it. Making changes at the legislature was discussed, there were concerns a proposal would not remain intact in the legislative process, and it was unclear what the proposal would turn into.
(My comment: Why would you change state law to mandate the use of BFA in family court when the Board is lacking the information and case studies to determine its effectiveness?)
BFA is still a new concept in Minnesota, and has not been widely approved. BFA can also be costly for litigants; the Board did not elaborate on how BFA would be paid for. The Board did say they wanted a BFA pilot program, and would consider asking the 10th district to be part of the pilot program.
Volunteers Lawyer Network has an article on BFA that can be read at: BFA in Hennepin County Family Court
**Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) Guardian ad Litem Position – Recommendations came from the cultural audit/diversity committee. Currently there is a cultural specialist position in the GAL program but not a dedicated ICWA Specialist. There was discussion about the need for a separate and distinct ICWA GAL; the job would be paid the same and can take other cases, but a majority of cases handled would be ICWA.
For more information on ICWA in Minnesota, please read “A Family Guide to the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA)” by Michael Hogan, Law Clerk & Dawn Blanchard, J.D.: A Family Guide to ICWA
**Records Retention Policy- The GAL program looks at the Court as the official record keeper. If a party wants to get information about their file, the Board says they can get up to date information from the Court.
The GAL program is covered by the judicial branch rules of public access. The Board is considering a “careful legal review” of its records retention policy.
(My comment: The GAL Program has offered varying answers when directly asked how a party can access their own file created with the GAL program. The GAL Program will not offer the file either as a copy or for viewing, to a party. Many parents complain that they should have a right to access to their file. Parents also cite that CPS allows parents to get a copy of their file, and that the GAL program should also.
I read the Judicial Branch Rules, it was unclear on how they apply specifically to a GAL in family court. The GAL program will likely need its own rules and policy, apart from the judicial rules – and published in a place connected to the program.
Rule 9 of the judicial branch rules does say a party can appeal a decision in which they are denied access to their records,”If the custodian, other than a judge, denies a request to inspect records, the denial may be appealed in writing to the state court administrator. The state court administrator shall promptly make a determination and forward it in writing to the interested parties as soon as possible. This remedy need not be exhausted before other relief is sought.”)
The Branch Rules can be read in full at: Minnesota Judicial Branch Rules
Thank-you for visiting A Call to Action’s blog! We will keep you updated with news and events about Minnesota family court and GAL issues; and related family court news from around the country. We hope to see you at the next GAL Board meeting.
Contact us for addition information at: pakcomments @ live.com