Volunteer Guardian Ad Litem (VGAL)
What Is a VGAL?
A VGAL is a trained volunteer who works as a Volunteer Guardian Ad Litem appointed by the Superior Court Judge to represent the best interest of abused and neglected children within our dependency court system.
The VGAL Program is appointed to the case by the Judge. Volunteers are assigned to a case by the Program Manager. The case is one of abuse, neglect or abandonment. After the case is assigned, the VGAL researches the background of the case, reviews documents and interviews everyone involved, including the child. Reports are made to the court so that the judge is provided with the information that will enable him/her to make the best informed decision for the child.
The volunteers are people who have a heart for children and who have set aside time from their busy lives to speak for the young children who may not have a voice in court without the volunteer. These volunteers are people like you who take the time to receive training and then spend approximately 10 hours a month to follow this child through the court system.
These volunteers are you, because every year 3 million children in the United States are put into the foster care system through no fault of their own. These children are victims. They are victims of violence, psychological and sexual abuse. Some have been neglected and abandoned by their parents.
That leaves them to the care of the State represented by the Department of Child, Youth and Families (DCYF). DCYF identifies and offers remedial services to best serve the family with the goal of family reunification. As a VGAL you work as a fact finder for the judge who ultimately must make the decisions concerning this child. The VGAL researches the background of the child's case reviewing documents, interviewing the child, parents, family members, school officials and attending all meetings concerning the child. The VGAL assigned to the child stays with this child throughout the child's stay in the foster care and court systems.
After gathering factual, first-hand information, the VGAL represents the child's best interest by writing a report to the court. This report you have made is added to the information provided to the Court from DCYF and attorneys representing the parents. The information provided to the court from all sources, help the Court make life-changing decisions for the child and family. Resolution may come with a return to the parental home with parents who have completed remedial services to provide a safe and stable home for their child, or termination of parental rights occurring which causes guardianship or adoption to occur.
VGAL in Klickitat County
The VGAL program in Klickitat County started in September of 1998. The program manages an average of 20-40 children per year.
Children over 12 have the right to an attorney to speak for them. Children under 12 need a voice that speaks to their best interest. That voice can be yours as a Volunteer Guardian Ad Litem.
The VGAL Program for Klickitat County is located in Goldendale across from the courthouse at the Juvenile Department. VGAL also has a satellite office within the Juvenile Probation Department in the Pioneer Center in White Salmon. For information about becoming a volunteer GAL contact Program Manager Ashley Bryan. She can be reached by phone at 509-773-2473 or by email.
What Type of Training is Required?
Once volunteers have completed the application/interview process, background check, and pass reference checks with three references, volunteers are required to complete a 30-hour training course. Training content includes courtroom procedures, the social service and juvenile court systems, interviewing and communication techniques, child development, chemical dependency and mental health, domestic violence and any other additional special needs of children who have been abused and neglected.
How Much Time Does It Take?
After training, the average involvement by a volunteer GAL is 10 - 15 hours per month. Volunteers are asked to make a commitment to the program to remain assigned to the child’s case until the case is dismissed from the court system.
What Are the Duties of a VGAL?
According to RCW 13.34.105, the duties of a Volunteer Guardian Ad Litem are:
To represent and be an advocate for the best interests of the child.
- To investigate, collect relevant information about the child’s situation, and report to the court the factual information regarding the best interests of the child.
- To monitor all court orders for compliance and to bring to the court’s attention any change in the circumstances that may require a modification of the court’s order.
- To report to the court information on the legal status of a child’s membership in any Indian tribe or band.
- Make recommendations based upon independent investigation regarding the best interests of the child, which the court may consider and weigh in conjunction with the recommendations of all parties.
- Deemed an officer of the court
How does a VGAL differ from a social worker?
Social workers are employed by state governments. They sometimes work as many as 60 to 90 cases at a time and are frequently unable to conduct a comprehensive investigation of each case. The VGAL is a volunteer with more time and a small caseload. The VGAL does not replace a social worker; he or she is an independent appointee of the court. The VGAL can make a recommendation to the court independent of state agency restrictions.
How does the role of a VGAL differ from an attorney?
The VGAL does not provide legal representation in the courtroom. However, the VGAL does provide crucial background information that assists attorneys in presenting their cases. It is important to remember that VGALs do not represent a child's wishes in the court room but speaks for the child's best interests.
Do lawyers, judges and social workers support VGALs/CASA?
Yes. Juvenile and family court judges implement VGAL/CASA programs in their courtrooms and appoint volunteers. VGAL/CASA has been endorsed by the American Bar Association, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention of the US Department of Justice.
How effective have VGAL/CASA programs been?
Findings show that children who have been assigned volunteers tend to spend less time in court and less time within the foster care system than those who do not have VGAL/CASA representation. Judges have observed that VGAL/CASA children also have better chances of finding permanent homes than non-VGAL children.