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How to become a Guardian Ad Litem for Abused and Neglected Children

Updated on February 16, 2010

Please be a voice. Make a difference in a childs life!

How to become a Guardian Ad Litem or CASA Volunteer for Abused and Neglected Children

What is a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) and Guardian Ad Litem (GAL)?

*The CASA/GALs exact legal authority and duties depend on what statute he/she was appointed under.

Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs) and Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) are volunteers who undergo extensive training and background checks to become certified to work with children who are involved in court proceedings. After the training and certification is completed, the volunteer is sworn in by the Court to serve as an officer of the Court. The CASA/GAL volunteer usually works on only one case at a time, so that he/she can devote the necessary time to get to know the children involved and to establish a trusting relationship with them, so that the children will feel comfortable confiding in the CASA/GAL regarding their concerns and wishes. CASAs/GALs can also assist with supervising custody exchanges or visitation; interviewing caretakers, counsellors and physicians to determine what they know about the children; and gathering records and information about the children. When it is time for a trial or hearing in court, the CASA/GAL can be a friendly, neutral person that the children can rely on for comfort in the unknown setting of the courtroom.

In some cases where the law does not require an attorney as Guardian Ad Litem, the court may appoint a CASA volunteer as GAL, to actually represent the child in the courtroom. In other cases, a CASA may be appointed in addition to an attorney GAL, and the two work together to represent the child. When a non-attorney GAL is appointed without an attorney, the law generally requires that an attorney be available for the non-attorney GAL to consult on legal issues affecting the child.

CASA is also the name of a national organization that provides standards and training for local associations of Court Appointed Special Advocates. Here is the National CASA Association Home Page and CASAnet, which has resources for CASA volunteers and GALs. If you want to find out more about CASA, or apply to serve as a CASA volunteer, you should contact your local CASA association. Here is the National Directory with addresses and telephone numbers for local associations.

When a child is involved in a court case, it is common for everyone involved to be represented by an attorney, except for the child. The CASA/GAL is a person appointed by the court to represent the child in court and to make recommendations to the court regarding the best interests of the child (some states may refer to these volunteers as Guardian Ad Litems (GALs), Law Guardian or Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA).

The role of GAL/Guardian or CASA, is not exactly the same as being an attorney for the child. The GAL/CASA has to consider the child's wishes, but also is required to make an independent judgment of what is in the best interest of the child, even if that is not what the child wants.

Personally, I believe that the children receive better representation from the Guardian Ad Litem volunteers/CASA volunteers. Attorneys are often appointed to these children as pro bono cases. They are typically already over extended in work within their practice of law, so the children get little to no one on one attention from the Attorney, and mostly the case worker notes are what is relied upon to make determinations on what is the best interest of the children. There are no true personal visits and time to really establish a trust and repore with the child.

Whereas with a CASA/GAL Volunteer, they want to take the time to spend with the child and learn their wishes, their past and make better recommendations on what their futures will hold. You have a personal stake in the outcome of their case. A good volunteer must know that they did everything possible to provide the best possible outcome for this child. It helps you sleep better at night knowing you took this on to do what is right, and for the right reasons versus someone who HAS to do it because the courts ordered it so.

People take on this volunteer role for different reasons. You should really take inventory of what you are willing to do and not do in your role as a volunteer. You have to be compassionate, but also be able to separate your emotions from rational decisions. You need to be a good listener and know that not all children are going to trust you just because you tell them you are a CASA/GAL. Trust is earned by patience, time and understanding. The title to a child just means you are another person sent to talk to them and ask questions. You may not get the answers you need on the first visit and you really shouldn't push if they are not willing to trust or open up right then. Earn it by not being intrusive. Compassion, patience and the trust that comes with not giving up on them is what will open the door and communication line. These children don't know who to trust right off the bat. They are still feeling out everyone that approaches them to see who is worthy of their trust and who is not.

There are also places that you will go that are not going to be clean, not in the best areas of town and in some cases in areas that you are not going to feel safe. You need to follow your instincts. If it doesn't feel safe or right, it probably isn't. Regroup and partner with the local Reps at the CASA or GAL office and allow them to establish a safer environment for you to meet in if necessary. The reason you want to go to the home is to be able to see what the environment is like for the child that would be living there. It's really important to know where you could be potentially sending them back to. You don't want to rely on the notes of someone else who may or may not be as thorough as you. You should check things out for yourself.

Then there are the children who are going to love you and want you to take them home with you because you are someone they trust. You have to be able to keep perspective and know that you are doing a better job for them by being their Guardian. You must remind them and establish those boundaries. If you can't then it is going to take a toll on your emotions. Some of the children you will want to bring home. But, know that your role is more important and vital to them as their CASA/GAL.

For me, the reason I became involved just became my worse fear. There was a young man that attended school with my son. I also was very close to his older brother as he was engaged to someone in my familiy. This young man I will call Michael was a gentle soul. He was innocent in so many ways. He loved to be hugged, treated with kindness and accepted. Yet, he walked with his shoulders curved in, eyes and head pointed to the ground and rarely made eye contact. He was quite, but had a pure soul. His hair was black and his eyes were just as dark as his hair. When you did get him to make eye contact with you, it was like looking through a two way mirror. On one side you could see that he felt accepted because you were taking the time to talk to him, console him in a troubled time. I saw a small child in fear in this half grown young man, and on the other side of the window I saw so much pain, fear and dread for what the outcome would be for him time and time again. Michael experienced a life that no one should ever endure. He was abused repeatedly by his father. The mother was in her own nightmare and would never go against the father and not only allowed, but often contributed to the abuse.

This boy would have guns pulled on him, and threats by his father to shoot him. He was beaten and even handcuffed to a piece of furniture and kicked in the head, face and body by his father. His face was beaten and swollen so badly you couldn't recognize that it was him.

Social Services and the Sheriffs Department were called to this home repeatedly. Once we were actually successful at getting him into fostercare where he was very happy and well taken care of. But, Social Services and the Judge handed him right back over to his father and mother. Even though the father was charged with assault and battery. Michael ran away often and would rather sleep outside than go back to the home where he was clearly not cherished or loved. The older brother had a nice home of his own and wanted to take his brother into his home and care for him. But, because he was not 21 he was not eligible by law to take him in. He was destined to get the phone calls, run to care for him and talk to the police time after time. Yet, Social Services and the Police never felt it wasn't bad enough on him to really remove Michael permanently from the home. I went and spoke with the Police once when he was hit in the face by his father, his ear ripped with blood coming out, shirt torn around the neck and red whelps on his arms and neckĀ from his father. The Police Officer made a smart comment about how often he comes to the house and then turned to the child and said "What did you do to piss him off this time"? Not, I'm sorry this happened to you, lets get you medical attention; Not we are going to remove you from the home. No, he said "I spoke to your Dad, and it appears from our conversation that this is your fault." That was the last time that Michael called the police and asked for help from anyone. He felt destined to endure the life given to him.

On January 31, 2010, Michael took a 22 rifle and shot himself in the head. He was 17 years old, he had already spoken with a recruiter for the Navy and signed up to enlist after graduation. Michael spent 4 years in the ROTC at his high school and had 3 Gold Stars, 4 Bronze Stars, 3 honors and was the Orienteering Team Leader of the Rifle team. All of which I learned as I helped to write his obituary yesterday.

His parents did not know about any of his commendations aside from the Team Leader position which was not anything that he was ever celebrated for. I can't fix what happened to Michael. I was to late. I finished my classes to late to be a GAL to make a difference for him. But, I can promise, that I will always treat every child I see like they were Michael and give them their dignity, respect and kindness they deserve, I will earn their respect and trust and I will not let them down. I will not take sloppy work from the police as acceptable and short investigations from Social Services as ok. I will have a loud and clear voice for my kids and when it is all said and done, they will know that there is someone out there who doesn't want anything from them but to know that they are safe, healthy, happy and bound to grow up with a future that they have a say in making.

There are so many Michaels out there that need a voice. Every State has a need for volunteers who are willing to be that voice. If you have an open mind, a kind heart, patience, time and a desire to make a difference in a childs life. Please sign up to become a CASA/GAL volunteer. It will be one of the most challenging, rewarding and memorable thing you will ever do in your life! Give a child back their voice!


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    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Referencing ALL Gal is extreme. I've never left a child with a parent as you described. Two questions? What kind if representation did she have? Because it sounds like they did an extremely poor job secondly, if the GAL was showing prejudice which is against our sworn oath, she should have been brought to the attention of the Guardian Office for investigation and removal from that case. What was DSS role in this, as they too make recommendations? I rarely agree with DSS and often do muchore investigating on my families. I care very little about the parents. My role is what is best for the child and to advocate for them soley. It sounds as if this case needs to be strongly investigated. I would recommend you start at the GAL office. If they don't help, go to the Governors office because they appoint Guardians (oversee the entire state program). If that does not work I would suggest an independent lawyer with fresh eyes to take on this case and if that doesn't work, then go to the media and blitz the story to gain support. I'm very sorry for all that has appeared to happen to these children. I am in SC. But if it were brought to me, I would be relentless until I knew 110% that the children were happy, safe, loved and well provided for in the most nurturing environment. That's the role of a guardian. Being a yes person for DSS and siding with a parent is wrong. There is no grey area. It's either the best thing for the child or it's not. If either parent becomes questionable then you move through the family tree until you find the right legal guardian. If the family tree is rotten then you move to a different orchard And start fresh. One last food for thought. CASA is a national organization that is strongly supported by Dr Phil McGraw. Contact them and seek additional advice as well. I wish you success on doing what is right and and truly in the best interest of these children.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      It upsets me to know that all GAL do not put the children first or there needs but are paid by the ex husband like Madeline Richmone in Ridgeland MS to remove the children from a stabel home with a married couple with the step dad wanting to adopt to give them a normanl life. But give them to the ex who parties does drugs and leaves the kids 11 hours at school each day and weekends with the day care center but she must be bought why else would she do this to these children???

    • Williamjordan profile image


      7 years ago from Houston TX

      ugagirl66 great imformation glad you made contact to follow me on hub pages I will be following you.This is a great solution for helping abuse in at risk children.I will put a link to your hub on my blog.

    • ugagirl66 profile imageAUTHOR

      Regina Harrison-Barton 

      7 years ago from South Carolina

      You can google CASA or Guardian Ad Litem programs specific to your state. If you need help, please feel free to email me.

    • tigergirl15 profile image


      7 years ago

      Amazing. I think this is definitely something I would be interested in doing. Where do I sign up?

    • ugagirl66 profile imageAUTHOR

      Regina Harrison-Barton 

      8 years ago from South Carolina

      Thank you so much for your message and kindness. I agree, he is in a far better place and certainly is a guiding angel for many. He certainly earned those wings. I to believe his parents will be dealt with by a just God. It was never up for me to be the punisher. I just wish he could have been around to see all the good he did in this world and how many turned out at his funeral and mourned him. He inspired so many and had no idea. You have blessed so many in your life as well. They are very lucky to have had God place you in their paths. I believe that is how we all end up meeting people. We are directed to them by God and you know when he has sent you. Because you fix things the way he chooses and you can feel is warmness and embrace for having done his work. You too, keep up the great work! I will add you in my prayers as well. We are an Army for God and the more we join the better this world can be from it. Imagine, if we all felt this way. How wonderful our world would truly be.

      Thank you again. I appreciate the support and do hope you have an opportunity to work as a Guardian Ad Litem. It is worth every second, every child!

      Blessings to you!

    • skye2day profile image


      8 years ago from Rocky Mountains

      Praise God for helping in His World. There are so many troubled children my heart cries for them. Michael is in Heaven now and God is a just God. He will deal with the parents in due time. I am so sorry no one came to his rescue earlier. Thank You for going to him when you did.

      I was a guardian for an elderly woman with Alzheimer's. It is a very difficult, full time job. I will pray for you and if the Lord sees it for me I will help a little one no problem. My Ellie so loved me and I her. She knew me to the end and passed on to heaven 7 months ago. It is allot of work. So I pray for you because you need endurance and strength that can only come through the Good Lord.

      You know Michael was too good for this world.He is home and suffering no pain. I am so sorry he felt he had no choice. May God send help to all the hurting ones that need us to come to them. If he needs me I will gladly jump in. I will try to check it out. I am involved in missions and I deal with LOTS of little ones and older ones, hungry, angry, lost, sad, lonely, lovely, homeless, loved ones. I will pray about it and see where GOD leads me.

      Love never Fails. I pray for your mission and God will continue to Bless and Keep you. Keep the Faith sister, I know it is very difficult to deal with guardianship. It is a huge responsibility. Although 'Nothing is impossible with God'

      Much Love to you and yours. Keep on. In HIM Jesus Christ.

      UP and awesome hub of love.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      What an enlightning website,and such a heartbreaking story. And we all realize that there are so many children who have no one to advocate for them. My children are all grown, I am retired and have the time commitment and compassion to be an advocate and I am so looking forward to " give something back". Beverly

    • profile image

      Gina Barton (Ugagirl) 

      8 years ago

      Thank you. It really depends upon your state. I reside in Lexington, SC an you can only serve as a volunteer capacity. However, in a different county in our state, GALs can be paid for service. You can do this and work fulltime, but it is mandatory to attend all court dates as you are court appointed. If you have the flexibility to take half a day off for court.

      I hope this helps. These children could really use your voice.

      Let me know if I can help in anyway.


    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I have thought about becoming a CASA/GAL at some point - right now I am a school administrator. Is this something that can be done alongside a full time job? Or is it a better idea for retirement? Is there any way to be beyond the volunteer stage without being a lawyer?

      This story was touching - thank you.

    • profile image

      Leslie Sansone Williams 

      8 years ago

      Thanks so much for your comments on being a GAL. I'm just beginning and appreciate your insight. I'm so sorry about Michael and what that boy had to endure. So sad.

      In our county alone, there is a need for over 50 GALs right now. The training we all received was wonderful. Sitting in the courtroom and observing for a full day was enlightening to say the least.

      Thanks again for all that you do on behalf of the children, hon.


    • Bob Etier profile image

      Bob Etier 

      8 years ago from Western North Carolina

      I am a GAL in NC. I've just started a new blog, and a link to your hub is my first entry. Great hub!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Thank you for posting this article. It has a lot of very helpful information. I am looking forward to becoming a member of Guardian Ad Litems in my State too.


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