What is the difference between an attorney and a guardian ad litem?
In our dual role as the child’s attorney and guardian ad litem(GAL), we serve two different functions: as the child’s attorney, our role is to advocate on behalf of our client’s wishes. As the child’s GAL, our role is to advocate for what we feel is in the child’s best interests. For the most part, these two roles go hand in hand. However, situations do come up in which the two roles are in conflict with one another. In these situations, we alert the court to the situation and may take other action as well.
How is the Public Guardian’s office different from the State’s Attorney, DCFS, or the Public Defender’s office?
As the child’s attorney/GAL, our function is distinct from any of the other involved parties. Our job is to advocate for the child and no one else. Although the representatives of other parties have an obligation to advocate for their clients, their positions must be guided by the best interests of the child.
How old are the clients and how long do children remain in the system?
Our office is appointed to represent children from the time they come into the system until they leave the system. As such, our clients range in age from just hours old to 21 years old. A child’s case remains open from the temporary custody hearing until the case is closed in one of several possible ways, via a return home to the parents, adoption, guardianship, emancipation or “aging out” at the age of 21.
Does the Public Guardian’s office represent foster parents?
Our office does not represent foster parents, even where one of our clients is currently placed with a foster family. Foster parents are an indispensable part of the child protection court process and, as a general rule, their input is crucial in determining what is in the best interests of the child.
Are children and youth allowed to come to court?
Not only are clients allowed to come to court, our office believes that their participation is absolutely vital. The child protection court process needs to be centered on the child, and it is crucial that children and youth have a say in what happens. If a child or youth chooses not to come to court, the attorney/GAL will take steps to ensure that the court is informed of the client’s wishes.
Can your office do anything when DCFS won’t take action and a client is in need?
If you believe that DCFS is not acting consistent with the best interests of a child or youth, contact the child’s attorney/GAL. There may be several ways available to help the child get the services they need.