A guardian ad litem (GAL) is a volunteer who advocates for children involved in court cases. A judge appoints a GAL in every child abuse or child neglect case and sometimes in delinquency and other cases.The GAL makes recommendations to the court for the child’s best interests in and out of court until the case is over.
In this Section...
Right now, thousands of Vermont's children and youth are part of proceedings in the family division. Many of them are victims of abuse or neglect, accused of delinquent acts, or simply lost. They may be in foster care while they wait for safe, permanent homes. They may need someone to help them understand what's happening, to advocate for their best interests, and to make sure that their voices are heard.
To children, the entire court experience may be confusing and scary. As part of the process,they may have their most private secrets revealed to strangers. When the case is over, these strangers disappear and leave the children to live with the decisions made about their lives.
The Vermont Guardian ad Litem Program (VTGAL) ensures that every court has trained volunteers to serve as caring and independent child advocates, because
- No child should feel unheard.
- No child should feel lost.
- No child should feel helpless.
- No child should feel alone.
A guardian ad litem (GAL) can make certain that at least one child is not alone. If you are interested in serving as a GAL, click here.
Guardians ad litem (GALs) advocate for children involved in court cases. These volunteers come from all walks of life. Many are retirees. Some have been teachers, stay-at-home parents, nurses, lawyers, or social workers.
Judges appoint a GAL in all child abuse and child neglect cases and occasionally in divorce or custody cases or cases when a child must testify. The GAL makes recommendations to the court and advocates for the child’s best interests in and out of court until the case is over.
A GAL typically:
- Meets with the child at least once a month
- Gathers information from parents, foster parents, and other people close to the child
- Communicates regularly with Vermont's Department for Children and Families (DCF) and the child’s lawyer
- Promotes cooperation between the parties
- Ensures that the court has all relevant information about the child
If you are related to a child involved in a court case and want to learn about the role of the volunteer guardian ad litem, click here.
There is no one way to determine a child's best interests. Each child's situation is different. In every case a guardian ad litem (GAL) decides on a position based on facts specific to that particular child and family. To do this, a GAL needs to know the people involved, get relevant information about the child, and be a strong advocate for the child. GALs generally accomplish this in several ways, such as:
- Meeting with the child at least once a month where the child is living, to better understand that child's story
- Speaking with parents, other family members, caregivers, and service providers, including the Department for Children and Families (DCF) and school staff
- Informing the child’s lawyer, the court, and/or DCF about the child's safety, well-being, and best interests
- Advocating for services for the child and the family
Volunteers receive a three-day training before they begin. Because Vermont law requires a guardian ad litem (GAL) for every child in a child abuse or child neglect case, training focuses on those cases. After the initial training, new GALs shadow experienced GALs to gain real-world experience before being appointed to their own cases.
Once they have begun volunteering, GALs receive further instruction on specialized topics, such as working with youth in delinquency cases. GALs also participate in training offered by the DCF and other agencies. GALs have less formal opportunities for education as well, such as monthly brown-bag lunches and webinars.
GALs receive support from a variety of sources. A paid staff coordinator provides direct assistance to the GALs in most counties. Central office staff offers help in more complicated cases or when there is no coordinator available. GALs also get support from other GALs in their county. Finally, GALs work closely with the DCF and the child's lawyer throughout a case.
To learn more, please contact the Guardian ad Litem Program:
Jeremy Zeliger, Programs Manager
Office of the Court Administrator
109 State Street
Montpelier, VT 05609