Sunday, April 29, 2012
GALs and the Safety of Our Children
It strikes us that if one uses a "in the child's best interest" standard, that an important baseline consideration is: "Is the child safe?" Clearly there are additional issues like the child's well being, its opportunities for normal, physical and psychological growth and development, its social and moral development, but central to society's interest is safety.
We have been appalled by reports of GAL recommendations that propose assigning a child's custody to a parent with an extensive history of alcoholism, prescription drug abuse and felonious legal issues - especially when there are other, safer, better choices. In these cases there has been no assessment of child's safety or of the older idea of "parental fitness". The new, hip view is that at all costs the GAL should avoid "social or cultural bias". In bending over backwards to meet the avoidance of social or cultural bias, the "broad-minded" GAL must give due consideration to high risk parents, who might have been considered "unfit" in previous years. Has the parent showed up drunk for an interview with the GAL? Have they dilated pupils or do they stagger? If not observed by the GAL, and if they say they are clean, they are innocent until proven guilty. It is simple, blind denial, and it places "the best interest of the child" at serious risk.
We feel that the Judicial Branch should demand primary, professional information to back up these recommendations. What do the physicians, psychologists, drug counselors, parole officers have to say? What about family members (on both sides)? What about independent psychological testing for fitness to parent? What about an in depth assessment of the biases in favor of not showing bias to cultural or social issues?
There is another concern that comes out of "the child's best interest" standard, mediation. Isn't mediation a conflict of interest for a GAL? If a GAL stands for "the child's best interest", how can that GAL broker a "deal" with the parents? Doesn't "best interest" have to be separate from: "I want; you want?" Carving up the child for the parents is not necessarily in "the child's best interest!" Parents are frequently told by GALs that whatever they agree to will be recommended to the court. Mediation is one of the "mission expansions" that has gradually been added to the GAL's statutory role. It generates huge billable hours. Can a GAL, as an arm of the court, be an unbiased mediator? In our opinion the legal power behind a GAL precludes a free, open exchange necessary for true mediation. The GAL is "armed" by his/her appointment in these transactions, and wearing a "gun" precludes free discussion.
As old teachers are wont to say to children, "We can do this the easy way or the hard way, the choice is up to you." But GAL clients aren't children!
We ask ... is this 'modus operandi' "in the best interest of the child" or in that of the GAL?
The choice is up to you.