(Hennepin County, Minnesota): “If a parent suspects child abuse, it’s their responsibility and not the guardian’s job to call Child Protective Services…” This statement attributed to Jamie L. Manning, Guardian ad Litem, as reported in Separated From Their Kids, Parents Unite Against One Court Guardian by Susan Du
As a Guardian ad Litem (GAL), Manning IS a mandated reporter, and failure to report suspected abuse could result in criminal charges being filed against her. As a GAL it IS Ms. Manning’s job to protect children, and advocate for their best interests…which also means she must report suspected child abuse, neglect or endangerment to the proper authorities.
Background – Jamie L. Manning, Minnesota Guardian ad Litem
Jamie L. Manning has been involved in Minnesota’s Guardian ad Litem program since 1996, working as a GAL in both Carver County and Hennepin County. Manning has been also used by the Minnesota GAL program to train new Guardians.
Jamie Manning currently has a website listed under the name Banga & Manning, LLP although business partner Angie Banga (a former Guardian ad Litem) has moved to Florida and the business Banga and Manning, LLP was dissolved in 2013 according to records from the Minnesota Secretary of State. Banga & Manning, LLC used to provide family court dispute resolution services (such as mediation, custody evaluations, and parenting consultants).
According to Manning’s resume, she earned a degree in education in 1980 from the University of Minnesota.
Several Parents Voice Concerns that Jamie Manning Mishandled Reports of Alleged Child Abuse
Reporter Susan Du noted in her article “Separated from Their Kids” (linked above) a pattern in the complaints of the parents, both mothers and fathers, who cited concern about Ms. Manning’s conduct while serving as Guardian ad Litem on their family court cases,”But the number and nature of their complaints is alarming. All the parents in this group, men and women, allege an eerie, meticulously documented pattern of lies within Manning’s reports. They claim in each of their cases that Manning sided with their abusive ex-partners, that she misquoted therapists, falsely claimed to have spoken with school officials, and ignored their children’s requests for help. They complain that she serves parents with scathing reports too late — right as they walk into court as opposed to the mandated 10 days prior — leaving them no time to review and defend themselves….”
It is the complaint of several parents interviewed for the “Separated From Their Kids” article that Jamie Manning did, in fact, fail to report allegations of child abuse or endangerment to authorities.
1) Mother, E.J. says,“She accuses the courts of ignoring her children’s reports of abuse while in their father’s care. (E.J.’s ex-boyfriend declined to comment through his lawyer.)
Asked where her case went wrong, E.J. points to a single woman, Jamie Manning, the court-appointed guardian ad litem…”
“In June 2008, when E.J. still had primary custody of her daughter, the girl came home from a weekend at her dad’s house with a black eye. Her older brother had whacked her over the head with a pillow that had a metal zipper on it, she said. E.J. reported the incident to Child Protective Services. (The brother had special needs and required close supervision because of safety concerns and prior physical altercations against the sister)…
Investigators then consulted the guardian in the case, Jamie Manning. She too downplayed E.J.’s complaint. The CPS worker’s notes from the interview reflect that Manning said E.J. had mental health issues resembling Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy, in which parents hurt their own kids to seek attention. The assessment came out of nowhere — not a single psychologist has ever diagnosed E.J. with it. CPS nevertheless dropped its investigation into the abuse…”
Family Court Guardian ad Litems are not supposed to interfere with CPS investigations nor influence findings.
E.J. further says, “Manning waved off E.J.’s repeated cries of child abuse. In one report, she criticized E.J. for asking the children to keep her address secret (she is a participant in the Safe at Home address confidentiality program “designed to help people who fear for their safety maintain a confidential address. Many times program participants are survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking…“) from their father (the reason she enrolled in Safe at Home is abuse and stalking from father), and recommended a sparse schedule of monthly visits…”
2) In the case of Elise, mother, there had been some differences with her ex; the article cites the elder daughter was not being returned from from visitation at the scheduled time.
The case escalated when her daughter complained of being bullied at school when she decided to transfer the child to a different school. Jamie Manning was appointed as Guardian ad Litem and criticized the change in schools,”Manning objected, insisting that bullying was not an issue, based on conversations she’d had with school officials. Manning used the incident to recommend giving dad sole legal and physical custody. But when Judge Kevin Burke challenged Manning to produce key evidence that bullying had not been a problem for Elise’s daughter, Manning was mum…”
Manning went on to accuse Elise of being mentally unfit to care for her children. Elise eventually won custody after the family court judge found Ms. Manning’s testimony and negative portrayal of Elise as not being credible.
3) Father Hal has a similar story about Ms. Manning recommending sole custody to an ex-wife who is accused of abusing their two children.
Daughter Holly repeatedly contacted Ms. Manning, begging for help. As a mandated reporter, Ms. Manning should have contacted CPS, or in the very least notified her supervisor, of the abuse allegations made by the child. As a Guardian ad Litem representing the best interests of the children, it was her job to do so.
“Meanwhile, tensions in Michelle’s (mother) household rose to an all-time high. Holly’s class essays and unanswered emails begging Manning for guidance tell a narrative of screaming matches, heavy-handed discipline, and violent clashes between her mom’s new husband, Doug, and her brother Brandon.
Holly, 13 at the time, wrote an email to Manning dated January 18, 2011 asking her for Judge Jeannice Reding’s contact information so she could speak to her directly and set the record straight about how rough it had been living with her mom. Doug grabbed 11-year-old Brandon by the throat because Brandon called him an ass, she wrote.
“This really hit me to rock bottom,” Holly wrote. “I just feel frustrated that the court isnt really listening to what Brandon and i want.”
Six days later, Holly sent Manning another email. She said after Michelle had a heated argument with Brandon over cleaning his room, Doug picked the boy up sideways, flipping him upside down and back again before shoving him to the floor. Holly wrote she tried to call the police, but her mom hid the phone.
“Please i want the adress and phone # for the judge quickly,” she begs Manning in the email. “Please, get us out before someone gets seriously hurt.”
Later that day, Manning responded. She advised Holly to talk to her therapist, adding that Brandon needed to learn how to respectfully engage with Michelle and her new husband…‘”
Despite the numerous reports of physical and mental abuse from both children, and the escalation of violence in their mother’s home, Jamie Manning eventually recommended sole custody to the identified perpetrator — mother. After mother was granted custody, both children fled her house and lived with their father, in safety, until they eventually aged out of the system.
4) Elizabeth, a survivor of domestic violence, had Jamie Manning appointed to her family court case as Guardian ad Litem after it was reported the children witnessed their father’s violence towards their mother.
Daughter, Anne, who was supposed to have an advocate and a voice in court with the appointment of a Guardian ad Litem says about Jamie Manning,”‘Anne, now 18, remembers sitting in the bathtub as a child and watching her dad slap her mom into the shower like it’s been burned into her memory. Even so, Manning recommended that her father receive unsupervised visitation time with her and a younger brother, now 15. Her father eventually kidnapped that brother…
‘Jamie Manning stole my brother,” Anne says. “She let my dad have visiting rights to see us when he was still the abuser, which didn’t make sense at all. No one saw it through our eyes…'”
Anne later testified at the Minnesota Guardian ad Litem Board Meeting, bravely sharing her story to a seemingly indifferent audience. The Minnesota Guardian ad Litem Board offers a short period at the beginning of their meetings to hear public comments. The Board develops policies and procedures concerning the Guardian ad Litem program and is also responsible for developing it’s complaint procedure.
GALs Using Mental Health Labels
It should be noted that in every parent interviewed by Susan Du had Jamie Manning accusing them of some form of mental illness base on her own opinion as justification for removing custody. Custody was then recommended to a parent accused of abuse, even after the child disclosed abuse (in some cases). If Ms. Manning really had concerns the parent was mentally unfit and mistreating a child as a result, as a mandated reporter, a CPS call should have been made. Yet in not one case did Ms. Manning contact authorities but instead resorted to seeking a remedy based on her own unqualified opinion. Ms. Manning is not licensed to diagnose or make any medical assessment, nor recommend treatment (which would include referring parents to mental health services).
The proper procedure for a Guardian ad Litem to reference information about a parent, or cite concerns, is to present a written report or documentation in their entirety from a qualified professional or include testimony from a relevant witness. The Guardian ad Litem can then include information in their report to the Court but should remain a “neutral fact finder” as outlined in their role and responsibilities under statute. It is beyond the scope of a GAL’s duties to do any more. A GAL should not interpret a medical report or other professional or expert report. It is the job of the professional to make that assessment – not the Guardian ad Litem.
The parent then has a due process right to a hearing in they can present their case, and in which evidence can be heard, and witness testimony taken. The judge will consider all of the information and testimony and then make a decision.
Guardian ad Litems should not be labeling or diagnosing parents with alleged mental health conditions. Along with that, it should not be recommended to the court that a “cure” for this mental health condition is loss of custody, visitation or termination of parental rights. Doing so could be considered Unlawful Practice of Medicine
147.081 Subd. 3, “For purposes of this chapter, a person not exempted under section 147.09 is “practicing medicine” or engaged in the “practice of medicine” if the person does any of the following...(3) offers or undertakes to prevent or to diagnose, correct, or treat in any manner or by any means, methods, devices, or instrumentalities, any disease, illness, pain, wound, fracture, infirmity, deformity or defect of any person..”
Guardian ad Litems Must Comply With Mandated Reporting Laws
Not the job of a Guardian ad Litem to call CPS when child abuse is suspected? That’s not what the law says and in fact, a mandated reporter who fails to report suspected abuse or neglect can face criminal charges.
Subd. 3.Persons mandated to report; persons voluntarily reporting.
(a) A person who knows or has reason to believe a child is being neglected or physically or sexually abused, as defined in subdivision 2, or has been neglected or physically or sexually abused within the preceding three years, shall immediately report the information to the local welfare agency, agency responsible for assessing or investigating the report, police department, county sheriff, tribal social services agency, or tribal police department if the person is:
(1) a professional or professional’s delegate who is engaged in the practice of the healing arts, social services, hospital administration, psychological or psychiatric treatment, child care, education, correctional supervision, probation and correctional services, or law enforcement…
A parent, guardian, or caretaker who knows or reasonably should know a child’s health is in serious danger must make a report. These individuals are subject to criminal penalties to report (Subd. 6).
(d) Notification requirements under subdivision 10 apply to all reports received under this section.
(e) For purposes of this section, “immediately” means as soon as possible but in no event longer than 24 hours.
Subd. 6.Failure to report.
(a) A person mandated by this section to report who knows or has reason to believe that a child is neglected or physically or sexually abused, as defined in subdivision 2, or has been neglected or physically or sexually abused within the preceding three years, and fails to report is guilty of a misdemeanor.
(b) A person mandated by this section to report who knows or has reason to believe that two or more children not related to the perpetrator have been physically or sexually abused, as defined in subdivision 2, by the same perpetrator within the preceding ten years, and fails to report is guilty of a gross misdemeanor.
Subd. 6a.Failure to notify.
If a local welfare agency receives a report under subdivision 3, paragraph (a) or (b), and fails to notify the local police department or county sheriff as required by subdivision 10, the person within the agency who is responsible for ensuring that notification is made shall be subject to disciplinary action in keeping with the agency’s existing policy or collective bargaining agreement on discipline of employees.”
As Guardian ad Litem, it was the sole purpose of Jamie Manning’s job to advocate for the best interest of the children, and give them a voice in court. Ms. Manning’s failure to report allegations of child abuse when brought to her attention, and when children disclosed incidents of abuse, has resulted in the children subject to this article suffering trauma and real physical and mental harm.
Ms. Manning has never been criminally charged for her actions, and has never faced discipline from the Guardian ad Litem program. She continues to be appointed to cases in family court and CPS proceedings.
Update – A Call to Action
Since the publishing of the City Pages article in Februrary 2015, complaints concerning the conduct of Guardian ad Litems in family court and CPS proceedings continue; with the handling of child abuse cases being of major concern. Many parents express frustration that complaints against GALs are not being taken seriously and the complaint process does not produce meaningful results to discipline GALs or correct mistakes.
In 2017, the National Center for State Courts did an assessment on the Minnesota Guardian ad Litem program: Assessment of the Organizational Structure and Service Delivery Model of the Minnesota Guardian Ad Litem Program
One of the recommendations of the assessment is that Guardian ad Litem appointments should be limited to child protection cases only and that a separate system, outside of the Guardian ad Litem program, should be developed for family law cases. — Meaning a family court Guardian ad Litem program would no longer exist.
“The GAL Board should consider identifying alternative methods to provide best interests advocacy in family law cases. The GAL Board should explore working with the legislature and judicial branch on a separate and distinct system of best interests advocacy in family law cases…”
And (page 30), “..the current system of family law appointments harms the reputation and future sustainability of the current GAL program, and causes role confusion among advocates and judges. This role confusion ultimately leaves children and families unsure of what they should expect from GALs. Role confusion also affects the parties, stakeholders, the public and the legislature’s perception of GAL performance, and undermines the ability of GALs to work effectively and within the boundaries of their statutory role…”
Another recommendation was that the Guardian ad Litem program should adopt a “universal employee model” and move away from the extensive use of volunteers, and instead offer opportunities to professionalize the role of the GAL. Along with that, was recommended a “streamline expectations and roles for GALs operating in each district, and promote consistent practice across the state…”
A Guardian ad Litem Audit was completed in 2018, offering further analysis and recommendation. However, the audit did not specifically address Guardian ad Litem performance, and concerns about the handling of domestic abuse and child abuse cases.
The audit did align with the NCSC evaluation with the recommendation that, “The Guardian ad Litem Board should adopt clear standards for guardian ad litem
This blog would add, that along with that should be clear standards on the handling of abuse allegations, and mandated reporting of abuse.
These two reports offer valuable information and insight on the Guardian ad Litem program, it; shortcomings as well as strengths, and what can be done to improve the system. Parents and children should also have a voice, and their experiences listened to, as they have personally witnessed and been affected by the system. Utilizing current reports and evaluations on the Guardian ad Litem program, as well as offering a place for professionals, parents and lawmakers to work together to seek solutions, there is hope the Guardian ad Litem can improve so long as the number one priority remains the well-being of the children.
However, should there be no change in the GAL program, the stories shared in the City Pages article “Separated from Their Kids” serve as a warning of those who will suffer most — children and families.