Why are you a GAL?
By Alaina Machado, Volunteer GAL (Miami-Dade County)
“As a Volunteer Guardian ad Litem I get all types of different questions.
The first one — regardless of the term “volunteer” — is: “Do you get paid?” I answer: “No, all GALs are actually volunteers.”
Then I get the second one, which is more like an affirmation:
“Oh … you do it because you need the volunteer hours for school! Again my answer is: “No.” — and then I always get the look.
The last and more common question is:
“I do not know how you can do such a sad job.” To that I respond that I do not know what I would do if I could not do this amazing job.
Being a GAL is the most rewarding experience I’ve ever had; it is not a sad job, but a very important one.
- You get to be the voice of children who have lived most of their lives in silence;
- You get to advocate for their rights, and make sure they’re fulfilled.
- I get paid in smiles, hugs, gratitude, and the peace of mind that a little boy or a teenage girl is now smiling in the safety of a home.
It is our responsibility as adults to create a safe world for our children. Guardians ad Litem are hope, strength, and safety for a young person, who sometimes does not have anybody else to provide this for them. Be someone’s hero today. Do your part in making this a world a better one. Wake up every day knowing that somewhere there is child who will always be grateful for your existence.
GALs do not get paid because their job is invaluable.
Questions & Answers
What is a Guardian ad Litem (GAL)?
Florida statutes define a Guardian ad Litem as “… a responsible adult who is appointed by the Court to represent the best interests of a child in a proceeding as provided by law … who shall be a party to any judicial proceeding as a representative of the child and who shall serve until discharged by the court.”
The statutes require the appointment of a Guardian ad Litem in every case of child abuse or neglect.
The Guardian ad Litem Program was created in the State of Florida in 1980 to address this need. Guardians ad Litem function as the voice for the child, as well as the “eyes and ear” of the Court, and make recommendations to the judge concerning the child’s social, physical, emotional, educational, and legal status.
What do GALs do?
- Speak up for the best interests of the child.
- Gather information through regular visits with the child.
- Conduct interviews with people associated with the child, such as parents, caregivers, and all social and medical service providers.
- Attend hearings on the child’s behalf.
- Make recommendations to the judge.
Who can become a GAL?
No special background or education is required to become a Guardian ad Litem (GAL) volunteer. People from all cultures and professions, and of all ethnic and educational backgrounds can serve as GALs. A volunteer GAL includes anyone who:
- Possesses a strong desire to help children.
- Demonstrates good judgment and common sense.
- Exhibits good communication skills.
- Provides favorable references and consents to and passes a background check.
- Completes 30 hours of training.
- Is 21 years or older.
How much time is required?
- An average of 3 hours per week is required in most cases.
- Guardians are asked to commit at least one year to the program — until the child’s case is closed. However, many of our volunteers have been with us longer than that.
What kind of training is offered?
To complete the required curriculum, new volunteers have two options:
- 30 hours of classroom instruction and court observation — OR —
- 30-Hour FLEX Training Program and court observation:
- 8 hours of Independent Study (done online)
- 12 hours of classroom instruction
- 10 hours of peer-on-peer mentoring. (You are assigned a case and an experienced GAL volunteer mentors you as you begin to work on your case.)
What happens after training?
- You become a certified, court-appointed GAL.
- You are matched with a Child Advocate Manager (CAM) who will support and advise you. Your CAM is assigned to you throughout your tenure as a volunteer.
- A Guardian ad Litem Attorney (GALA) will also be a member of your team.
- You will thoroughly read over your case file.
- You will make contact with the child and custodians to set up an appointment for your initial visit with the child.
- You will complete a visit report each time you visit your child, which will be on a monthly basis, or more often if needed.
- You will also meet — either in person or on the phone — with parents, caseworkers, teachers, doctors, therapists … everyone involved in the child’s life.
- You will appear in court and make recommendations to the judge as to the child’s best interests.
What if a GAL needs help?
- Guardians are assisted by a strong team of child best-interest attorneys (GALA) and child advocate managers (CAM).
- Staff is available to represent GALs in court if they are unable to attend.
- Other GAL volunteers are also a great source of support for each other; voluntary monthly support-group meetings ensure that our volunteers have peers’ perspectives and help, if needed.
What are the rewards of being a GAL?
- Knowing that you a making a difference in a child’s life.
- Meeting new people with similar interests and values.
- Gaining valuable experience and building professional values.
- Giving something back to your community. Our research shows: 90% of inmates in Florida penitentiaries were once in foster care; and 40% of homeless are aged-out foster-care youth. These are issues that affect us as a community and society as a whole.