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 childs 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 days
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 lifes 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 childs 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:
- Have you complied with standards and rules for GALs?
- Is the child eligible for state funded health insurance?
- Does the family qualify for government assistance?
- Food Stamps
- Earned Income Tax Credit
- General Assistance
- Fuel Assistance
- Subsidized Housing
- Have the parents attended parenting education courses?
- Are there allegations of domestic violence?
- Do the parents or children need mental health services?
- Are the children having trouble in school?
- Are you able to work with the parents to reduce the conflict
in the family?
- Are you being sensitive to issues of poverty and culture?
- Are you focused on the best interest of the child?