A Call to Action: Minnesota’s Guardian ad Litem Program Needs Reform

Many concerns have been raised about the use of guardians ad litem…most complaints are connected with guardian activities in family court cases, primarily in contested divorce actions. Complaints have focused on guardian bias towards either women or men, lack of oversight and accountability, inadequate training, inappropriate communication between guardians and judges, and other inappropriate behavior...”- Evaluation Report, Guardians ad Litem, 1995: MN.

Minnesota’s Guardian ad Litem (GAL) program has a long history of problems and complaints regarding systemic failures, lack of accountability and improper conduct by Guardians. In many cases, GAL program is contributing to the escalation of familial conflict, and directly placing the lives of children at risk.

The public is largely unaware of the problems existing in the GAL program because 1) there is an overall lack of transparency as well as a lack of accountability and 2) many parents negatively impacted by the GAL program do not speak out for fear of reprisal or, do not feel their concerns are being heard. The State GAL Board has recently revised its complaint procedure for parents to file a complaint against a GAL but even with new measures, complaints rarely result in findings of misconduct, even when evidence is presented. Complaints against Guardians are never made public and instead, are kept internally within the program – with no independent audit or oversight.

To give you an idea on the severity of the problem, here are a few recent complaints from parents currently involved in family court, who have been appointed a GAL:

Parent #1: “The recommendation by the GAL that my ex-husband have custody of our daughters nearly killed my youngest daughter last year… The whole GAL program failed my daughters, and it failed me.  The GAL put my daughters through traumatizing situations, and there are witnesses.  Despite all of my efforts to express my concerns, I never saw a single example of accountability on the part of the Program Manager (when I filed complaints). The GAL continued to provide false information in her reports to the court.  Consequently, the Judge’s decisions were made on false and biased GAL reports, with no functional accountability. My case has been going on since 2003…my children have spent their entire childhood involved in litigation.”

Parent #2: “My family became homeless as a result of domestic violence. My child was so traumatized by abuse and homelessness that he suffered serious emotional and behavioral problems. The GAL recommended sole custody be given to the abuser. After being forced to live with the abuser my child wrote a note to me that said he wanted to be dead. I was punished for reporting concerns of abuse, and told by the GAL my fear of the abuser is more harmful to my children than the abuse itself. 10 years later, I am still involved in active litigation, and my children continue to struggle. My child was once happy and popular with friends, has been suspended from school 3 times this year, and is being recommended for psychotropic medications to treat ‘anxiety’… When my child is with me, there are no problems. I believe my child is struggling due to the effects of abuse and trauma. My child does not need medication, she needs to be protected from abuse.”

Parent 3#:There was an order for protection against my ex boyfriend when he was given custody of my child. He has a criminal record including felonies, and his former partner filed for an OFP against him. My daughter was taken on the grounds of me being “to smothering” meaning I give her too much love and attention, and that I would not agree to “corporal” punishment. After my ex was given custody, I expressed concerns that my daughter made comments about being physically abused. I was told by the Guardian ad Litem that she would not take these reports serious, even though they were documented, including by CPS. I am being punished for reporting abuse. The GAL restricted my time with my child to once a week for 2 hours, in supervised visits. Since being placed with the abuser, my child has severely regressed. I am now going to the appeals court in my fight to maintain a relationship with my child, and to protect her from abuse.”

Complaints are being reported from parents from every part of Minnesota, every culture, every socio-economic background, both male and female. There are complaints from parents in active litigation as well as older, documented complaints, going as far back as 1997. The size and scope of complaints demonstrates how pervasive problems in Minnesota’s Guardian ad Litem Program are.

The GAL program receives public funding and serves a public interest; as such it must be held accountable to the public it serves. Further, the guardian ad litem role is defined by statute, (518.165) and guardians operating outside the statute are not provided immunity.

Other states have made efforts towards GAL reform. In Maine Governor Paul LePage signed into law comprehensive reform measures for family court GALs. Sen. Dutremble, also from Maine, was supported the new law following his own experience with a GAL, which he said was “one of the worst experiences of my life.” And in April 2014,both houses of Connecticut’s legislature unanimously approved a bill to reform the GAL program that included improved accountability, and better training.

Minnesota has begun its efforts to improve the GAL program with the audit and resulting recommendations (1995) and in August 2015 the State GAL Board has implemented changes to its complaint procedure. Yet there is still much work to be done.

Reform is in the best interest of families, and in the best interest of the GAL program as a whole. The Guardian ad Litem program was created to protect, advocate and give a voice to children who are at risk for abuse or endangerment; it is a necessary program that, when used properly, truly does work for the best interest of children. 

We Need ACTION and NOW IS THE TIME

Be part of the movement for change! The safety and well being of our children is our number one priority! Join “A Call to Action ~ Together We Are Stronger” to take part in our growing movement to reform Minnesota’s GAL and family court system. 

Email “Call to Action” at pakcomments @ live dot com for information on how you can join, updates and events. Please put “A Call to Action” in the header. Updates will also be included on this blog. 

Additional Info:

“Separated from Their Kids, Parents Unite Against One Court Guardian” (City Pages, Susan Du, 2/18/2015): Separated From Their Kids, Parents Unite Against One Court Guardian

“Office of the Legislative Auditor, State of Minnesota, Evaluation Report, Guardian ad Litem, Feb. 1995”: 1995 Guardian ad Litem Audit

A Call to Action: Proposed Reform Ideas, Minnesota Guardian ad Litem Program- Proposed Reform: Guardian ad Litem Program/

Governor Signs Guardian ad Litem Bill (Maine, July 2013): Governor signs guardian ad litem bill

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About EJ

Parenting Abused Kids (PAK) reflects the personal thoughts and opinions of "EJ" sharing her experiences of surviving domestic abuse and injustice in family court. PAK also includes news and informational articles about abuse and family court issues. The purpose of PAK is to raise awareness of the challenges domestic abuse survivors to rebuild their lives after experiencing domestic abuse, compounded with the struggles of ongoing family court litigation. PAK will also discuss and raise awareness about issues related to parenting children who have been abused, and often present with emotional and behavioral problems. Parenting Abused Kids is not affiliated with any professional group, political group, organization or religious affiliation. My sincere love and support goes out to abuse survivors and their children. I am so sorry for what you have endured, and pray your lives will be filled with the happiness you so deserve. Thank-you for visiting!
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7 Responses to A Call to Action: Minnesota’s Guardian ad Litem Program Needs Reform

  1. April says:

    You got my support! My experience with the GAL program has been a nightmare and when I filed a complaint I was told it had no merit, even though the GAL was caught lying in court. The ex was barely out of treatment when the GAL recommended SOLE custody. To an alcoholic. Something has to be done!

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  2. B.J. says:

    This could be my story too. The guardian ad litem in my case didn’t bother to do home visits, and wrote her report at the last minute which meant I got it just minutes before I went into court. The guardian ad litem made up lies because she did not have accurate info since she did not do home visits and did not bother to talk to the child therapist or read police reports. I am pro se and did my best to stick to the FACTS but the judge bought the lies anyways. Filing a complaint does no good. The judge just gets mad at you. And the program manager ignores you and says there is no merit. Does anyone really care about how the children are doing?!?!

    Like

  3. Emily Court says:

    Reblogged this on Family Court Injustice and commented:
    I have personally experienced the substantial failures in Minnesota’s GAL program and witnessed the devastating effects on my children, and my family.

    Due to systemic failures, lack of oversight, lack of training, Guardians assuming roles beyond the scope of their duties, cronnyism and a host of other problems the GAL program in Minnesota is failing children and causing irreparable harm to children and families. This is a problem that is veiled in secrecy, and cover-up from within the family court system and its alliance of related professional networks.

    The Minnesota State Guardian ad Litem Board has been aware of the failures of the GAL program and has refused to acknowledge the problems or implement needed change. Even Minnesota’s Legislators and Senators are aware of the problems, yet there has been no change. Complaints against various Guardians, and the program itself, have gone back 20 years (or more) with no response, no substantial reform. Even the revisions to the GAL complaint procedure have not resulted in any meaningful change. Parents who raise complaints against a GAL often become targets for retaliation, and their complaints are dismissed even when there is evidence or documentation to support their complaint. GALs are not only given immunity but are untouchable.

    For example, the State GAL Board is specifically aware of a number of complaints against my former GAL, Jamie Manning, and yet will not investigate. When City Pages published an investigative article about complaints against Ms. Manning the court system and legal system largely cast blame on the parents instead of doing their own independent investigation or examining the merit of these complaints. When you have 5 parents publicly speaking out… and many other complaints that have not been heard… that demands an inquiry. No one is concerned with how these children are doing. And I can tell you that my children are not doing well.. they have experienced and witnessed things that no child should ever have to bear.

    When I filed a complaint with program manager Laurie Kusek, she did not even respond; and as a result she has enabled the abuse of my children to continue. I filed a lengthy complaint with Kusek and included evidence, documentation and collateral sources and did not even get a phone call or letter or any effort to acknowledge that she had received my complaint. Absolutely no action was taken, and the GAL Jamie Manning continued to violate the statutory duties of a GAL, and then worked to forcibly separate me from my children without any legal justification. There has NEVER been any safety issues concerning me with my children – the safety issues, and allegations of abuse have all been related to their father, whom Ms. Manning supports and has greatly helped throughout the many years of involvement in my custody case. This is a man with a lengthy criminal history, a history of various addictions, and who was diagnosed by the court’s own psych exam as having a “personality disorder”. A man who presented such a danger that my children and I were forced to flee the home, and become homeless, for our own safety. How is it in the “best interest” or my children to be in the care and custody of an unstable, allegedly abusive father? How is it in the best interest of my children that the GAL is defending and advocating for one parent – and NOT the children, even as they suffer from a host of emotional, and behavioral problems and continue to make allegations of abuse and neglect?

    And yet Kusek is awarded by Minneapolis Rotarians, and given “the highest honor” for “for her persistence and energy in helping CASA MN (nonprofit) continue to recruit and retain volunteer guardian ad-Litems and promote the CASA guardian ad Litem program’s efforts to advocate for children in child protection.” (Dec 2015). Once again the problems existing in Minnesota’s GAL program go ignored, the complaints go ignored and the cover-up continues.

    When the GAL program fails who is protecting the children? Parents can not protect their children due to legal obstructions, retaliation and being stripped of their parental rights by the Guardians and the Court.

    The Guardian ad Litem Program is a needed program to advocate in court for children who are at risk, or have been a victim of, abuse or neglect. When it fails, children’s lives are put at risk. Reform is needed to better protect children, and ensure a fair system for all. The Minnesota GAL program is in need of an audit and independent investigation. And our leaders need to be to hear complaints and investigate the concerns so that needed change can occur.

    It should not be that children and families are being re-abused by the system.

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  4. JENNIFER says:

    I HAD VERY SAME EXPERIENCE IN NAPA COUNTY IN 2004. I HAD NO LAWYER AND THE GAL WAS FRIENDS WITH MY EX’S DIVORCE ATTORNEY. HIS UNCLE HAD BEEN A LAWYER IN OUR TOWN FOR TWENTY YEARS. THEY DID INCREDIBLE REPULSIVE THINGS.

    GAL DECIDED MY KIDS ” GREATEST WISH TO STAY TOGETHER IN THEIR MOTHERS CARE” WAS BRAINWASHED AND THEIR UNASHAMED REJECTION OF THE IDEA OF LIVING WITH THEIR FATHERS MUST BE PAS. THESE CHILDREN: ( AGES 14, AND 8 RESPECTIVELY), WHO THE GAL SAID ” WHOS MOST DISTINQUISHING CHARACTISTIC IS THEIR UNWAVERING LOVE AND SUPPORT OF THEIR MOTHER AND THEIR DESIRE TO REMAIN IN HER CARE” WERE TAKEN FROM THEIR MOTHER AND EACH OTHER. TAKEN FROM CATHOLIC SCHOOL AND SENT TO LIVE WITH AN ATHIEST FATHER AND A JOHOVA WITNESS FATHER. WE WERE GRANTED SUPERVISED VISITS TWICE A MONTH FOR ONE HOUR AT SOCIAL SERVICES. I WAS A GROUP COUNSELOR AT JUVENILE JUSTICE IN ANOTHER COUNTY. WORKED FOR SOCIAL SERVICES IN THAT COUNTY TEACHING PARENTING STRATEGIES TO OTHER PARENTS.

    WE WERE ALLOWED TO TAPE ALL CONVERSATIONS AND I TAPED ONE DAD ADMITTING HE DID NOT BELIEVE I USED DRUGS IT WAS A “STRATEGY” TO TAKE CUSTODY. THE GAL SAID HE DID NOT CARE TO HEAR IT. IT WAS NOT RELEVANT SINCE HE PLANNED ON TELLING THE JUDGE THAT IT WAS SO AND JUDGE HAD TO ACCEPT HIS RECOMMENDATION. ONCE THAT HAPPENED IT WOULD BE A “FACT OF LAW” AND TRUTH WAS NO LONGER RELEVANT. HE SAID I WOULD NEVER INCREASE THE TIME OR ACCESS I WAS GRANTED AND IF I TRIED HE WOULD RECOMMEND TERMINATING MY RIGHTS ALL TOGETHER FOREVER. I INITIATED MANY HEARINGS AND WAS TOLD TO PAY ALL PARTIES PRESENT AND FOUND TO BE IN CONTEMPT IF I DID NOT WITHDRAW MY MOTION AND STOP ” WASTING EVERYONES TIME . HE TOLD MY SON HE ” WOULD NEVER AMOUNT TO ANYTHING AND THAT WAS ESPECIALLY TRUE IF HE WAS ALLOWED TO STAY WITH ME.

    MY EIGHT YEAR OLD DAUGHTER WENT THROUGH HORRIBLE SEPARATION ANXIETY. SHE HAD NEVER SPENT MORE THAN ONE OR TWO NIGHTS AWAY FROM ME IN HER LIFE. THEY CONVINCED HER I WAS A LOSER WHO HAD PEOPLE IN AND OUT OF MY HOUSE DOING DRUGS AT ALL HOURS AND THAT IT WAS FOR HER SAFETY SHE HAD TO BE LIVING WITH THEM. THEY TOLD HER I COULD COME ANYTIME AND GET HER THAT I CHOSE NOT TO. SHE IS TWENTY NOW. COVERED IN TATTOOS. SHE IS A CUTTER AND SHE HATES ME FOR ABANDONING HER. MY SON WONT SPEAK TO HER FOR WHAT SHE SAYS ABOUT ME. HE WAS OLD ENOUGH TO SEE IT ALL AND KNOWS I WAS A STELLAR MOM.

    EVERY ITEM ON THE “BEST INTREST” GUIDELINE WAS IN MY FAVOR. THE GAL MIS QUOTED PEOPLE, QUOTED VAGUE UNCHECKABLE PEOPLE LIKE: ” NEIGHBORS” OR “SCHOOL OFFICALS”. I WAS REPRIMANDED FOR DISCUSSING THE CASE AND COACHING MY DAUGHTER WHEN SHE ASKED ME WHAT SHE SHOULD SAY AND I TOLD HER TO ” JUST TELL THE TRUTH”. SHE ASKED WHY I DID NOT WANT HER ANYMORE, HER “DAD SAID”, AND I SAID” I” WAS DOING ALL I COULD TO BRING HER HOME AND I LOVED HER MORE THAN ANYTHING”, THE GAL THREATENED ME WITH JAIL. WHO WAS PAS’ING?

    IT HAS BEEN 12 YEARS AND MY FAMILY NEVER RECOVERED. I NEVER GOT THEM BACK OR ANY MORE TIME THAN THE HOUR TWICE A MONTH A CPS.

    PEOPLE THINK IF YOU ARE A MOM WITHOUT CUSTODY YOU MUST HAVE DONE SOMETHING. “THEY DONT JUST TAKE KIDS FROM THEIR MOTHER. I AM HERE TO TELL YOU THEY SO. IT IS CROOKED AND DARK IN FAMILY COURT. NAPA CA. FAMILY COURT HAS BEEN FOUND OVER AND OVER TO BE UNLAWFUL AND BIASED. CAUGHT BACKDATING FORMS AND ALLOWING A DAD TO RUN TO ANOTHER STATE WITH HIS KIDS WHO WERE IN MOTHERS CUSTODY. THE JUDGE THAT DID THAT LIVES WITH THE COUNTY D.A. IT IS A GOOD OLD BOY COUNTY AND GOD HELP YOU IF YOUR FAMILY ISN’T ONE OF THE NETWORK.

    DANIEL CHESTER IS A HORRIBLE LAWYER, A DISQUSTING HUMAN BEING AND I AM PRETTY SURE HE WAS ALWAYS PICKED LAST FOR THE TEAM ON THE PLAYGROUND. WHOLE COUNTY KNOWS HE IS “NO FRIEND TO CHILDREN”, ” A WILDCARD WHO FLY’S BY THE SEAT OF HIS PANTS”, AND ” A SHADY A–HO–!” ALL QUOTES FROM SOCIAL WORKERS AND OTHER LAWYERS IN NAPA. HE MEDIATES NO IN SANTA ROSA. GOD HELP THEM. SOMETHING MUST BE DONE ABOUT GUYS LIKE HIM AND A SYSTEM THAT ALLOWS GUYS LIKE HIM TO PREVAIL.

    JENNIFER, FORMER MOTHER

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  5. B says:

    Hello,

    I am interested in supporting this group and attending your upcoming meetings or groups you recommend.

    Jamie Manning was our Ad Litem and daughter is trapped with mom. Mom has a major personality disorder and is emotionally abusive and stressful to live with. Daughter wants to live with me.
    But once Jamie makes a decision that decision stands.

    Thanks,
    B

    Like

  6. diane says:

    There is a meeting on Jan 17 , 2017 for the GAL board , are you going to be there ? http://mn.gov/guardian-ad-litem/program-information/gal-board.jsp

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    • EJ says:

      A group of parents will be meeting at the State GAL Board meeting.. will have updates soon.
      If you attend, it is a good idea to bring a pen/paper and take notes. The meetings are very informative, and you can learn alot about the GAL program by attending. =)

      Like

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