Your Legal Rights

while in foster care

What can I expect from my guardian ad litem (GAL)?

Your GAL has a duty, first and foremost, to establish a relationship with you. Your GAL should conduct an interview with you face-to-face in a place where the GAL can determine your wishes, the safety and adequacy of your current placement and the need for any testing/evaluation. Your GAL must review any and all records about your situation, including interviews with all of the people involved, such as your parents, current caretaker, your court-appointed special advocate (CASA), social worker, teachers and others. Your GAL should explain his or her role to all of the parties involved. It is the GAL’s responsibility to participate fully to protect your best interests. Your GAL is also responsible for ensuring that the court has all of the relevant facts, and he or she should also address all important aspects of your case. Your GAL should attend every court hearing and should meet with you and talk to other people involved in your case before every court hearing to get updated information about your situation.

What if I disagree with my GAL’s determination?

Your GAL must inform the court of your wishes even if your wishes are different from that of your GAL, but he or she is responsible for advocating what he/she feels is best interest.

What if the legal action I am involved in is confusing to me?

Your GAL has a duty to make sure that you understand all of the proceedings you are involved in, your rights, your GAL’s duties, and any possible consequences and outcomes of the proceedings. The GAL must also provide you with his or her contact information so you can contact him or her if you have any questions or concerns.

When will my GAL be involved?

Your GAL should be at all conferences and court hearings involving your case. Your GAL is expected to act as your advocate, meaning that he or she should be at all hearings, including the Administrative Panel Review, trying to convince the social worker and judge to do what he or she thinks is best for you. If you and your GAL disagree about what is best for you, the GAL must tell the court what you want but also tell the court why he or she thinks what you want is not the best thing for you. Your GAL is also responsible for filing any necessary or appropriate “motions” with the court. This means that your GAL should file any necessary paperwork on your behalf with the court.

When will I be involved?

You are considered a party, so you should be involved in all phases of the proceedings, including court hearings. This will allow you to hear what happens and express your feelings and your hopes about the outcomes. If you are 12 or older, you are legally entitled to receive notice of all court hearings and proceedings. There may be times, however, where your presence during court proceedings may not be possible, and your GAL will explain why.

Will I have to testify?

Your GAL will take into account your age, maturity, your desired outcome, the purpose of the particular hearing and the advice given by other specialists like social workers and therapists, in determining whether or not you should testify. It’s very important for you to tell your GAL whether you want to:

  1. Testify at your court hearing;
  2. Appear in court just to listen; or
  3. Not go to your court hearing at all.

Your GAL should make the determination whether or not to call you as a witness based on your need or desire to testify and your individual abilities.

What if I don’t want to testify?

If for some reason you don’t feel comfortable testifying or your GAL feels that testifying may be harmful to you, your GAL may seek an agreement with the other parties and they might agree not to call you as a witness or they may try to use other methods like limiting what types of questions you will be asked. If you do testify, your GAL should try to make the process as easy as possible for you. For example, your GAL may be able to arrange for you to testify in front of a TV, or you may just have to talk to the judge in his or her “chambers.”

What can I do if my GAL is not doing their job to my satisfaction?

If you feel that your GAL is not doing a good job for you, or you are unhappy with his or her performance, you must tell the judge why you are unhappy. The judge might replace your GAL if the judge agrees with you and feels that your GAL is not representing your best interests. You should also tell your social worker if you are unhappy with your GAL. If you are still unhappy after talking to your social worker and the judge, you can contact an attorney at the Just Children program about your concerns. (JustChildren is a legal aid office specializing in education law. You can get information for a JustChildren office at www.justice4all.org/our_programs/justchildren or by calling 1-800-578-8111).

Keep in mind, however, that your GAL does not have to contact the court every time you express dissatisfaction or unhappiness with your GAL’s performance.