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Best Practices Manual
Guardians Ad Litem

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Developed with a grant from the ABA Child Custody Pro Bono Project

Guardian Ad Litem Best Practices Manual

Serving as a Guardian ad litem in a contested family law proceeding is a challenging job. In addition to fulfilling your obligations to the court in making recommendations about the best interest of the child, research has shown that you may have a unique opportunity to assist a child and family in crisis by referring them to needed resources. This is particularly true for low-income and working poor families that may be struggling to keep their family afloat. Because of the importance of social services for poor children, the following best practices manual attempts to assist you in both the nuts and bolts of GAL work while also focusing your attention on possible resources not previously identified that could significantly improve a child’s situation.

As lawyers, very few of us have been forced to make the impossible choice between missing work to stay home with a sick child and losing a day’s pay that is needed to feed the children dinner or pay the heat bill. Most of us are fortunate to take for granted sick time, vacation and health care benefits, choices in child care, reliable transportation and the flexibility to meet life’s demands. Low-income families cannot take these kinds of supports for granted. When working with low-income and working poor families, we urge you to consider that access to government benefits may be the difference between having a home and being homeless, whether a parent can care for a disabled or special needs child or whether a single parent can have access to day care so that he can return to work. These benefits can make all the difference in a child’s life.

We recommend that you download and print this “check-list” and keep it at the front of every file to assist you in conducting a comprehensive investigation that produces a thorough report for the court and may connect poor families to much needed social services.

10 things to always think about when representing low-income children in family law matters:

  1. Have you complied with standards and rules for GALs?
  2. Is the child eligible for state funded health insurance?
  3. Does the family qualify for government assistance?
    2. Food Stamps
    3. Earned Income Tax Credit
    4. General Assistance
    5. Fuel Assistance
    6. Subsidized Housing
    7. SSI/SSDI
  4. Have the parents attended parenting education courses?
  5. Are there allegations of domestic violence?
  6. Do the parents or children need mental health services?
  7. Are the children having trouble in school?
  8. Are you able to work with the parents to reduce the conflict in the family?
  9. Are you being sensitive to issues of poverty and culture?
  10. Are you focused on the best interest of the child?

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