Friday, April 13, 2012

Maine needs outside consultation for GAL reform

  In thinking about repairing a broken GAL system, we feel that one should start with a look at previous perceptions of the problem.  OPEGA's 2006 Report on Guardian ad litem Oversight is an excellent place to begin.  It is thoughtful, non-partisan and thorough.  It is very detailed and explicit.  In 112 pages it says that there is no oversight of GALs, and it details many complaints from the grass roots about the system.

     The 2008-9 Judicial Branch report on the same topic says much the same thing in speaking about the GAL oversight problem.  It was the work of a committee that had 7 GALs, several of whom were members of the Maine Guardian ad Litem Institute board.  It proposed an elaborate investigative process that gently investigated problems and gently helped to repair malfunctioning.  It cost $500,000 and was understandably refused by Maine's legislature.

     There was also the report in 2009 by First Star, a children's advocacy group, and by The Children's Advocacy Group of the University of San Diego School of Law.  These collaborating organizations gave Maine- and 6 other states- an "F" in its legal protection of children.  Finally, there is Maine's Chief Justice, Leigh Saufley, who spoke at a hearing of the Joint Committee of the Legislature on the Judiciary, declaring that Guardians ad litem had no oversight and promising to come up with a plan for the legislature's Judiciary Committee by October.

     That there is a GAL problem of unknown dimensions is undeniable.  What to do about it and who the architects of reform might be are of huge concern to those children and families affected by the system and any future reform plans.

     We would recommend that the Judicial Branch seek formal, outside consultation from relevant professionals in those states, which are recognized as leaders in the legal protection of children.  The use of outside experts allows for extrication and detachment from the always enmeshed politics of a small state like Maine.  It might also bring the best thinking available to the problem-solving of a complex systems problem: GALs, their roles and functions, their legal boundaries, their management and oversight, and the systems and data collection that would functionally promote these aims.

     At all cost, we need to avoid another planning effort like that of the judicial branch in 2009. One in which the planners included 7 "foxes" working on  the security plans for the "hen house".

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