Issues Relating To Guardians ad Litem



Federal law requires states to appoint an individual to represent the interest of children involved in judicial proceedings regarding abuse and neglect, as a prerequisite to receiving funds for child abuse and neglect prevention and treatment. However, the law fails to specify how states are to provide such representation. In the nearly thirty years since this law was enacted, the representation of children has developed into a highly specialized area that involves increasingly sophisticated and complex laws and underlying interdisciplinary factors. The absence of standards of practice or guidelines has been commonly blamed as a major cause of substandard or ineffective representation of children. Many states are striving to improve the representation of children in abuse and neglect cases, but are struggling with how to provide quality representation in a cost-effective manner. Considerable variation in how guardian ad litem services are provided exists among the states and even within some states. While general models exist, most jurisdictions appear to have adapted such models to their own unique circumstances and needs. The end result is that there are innumerable variations on any particular model.


Frequently Asked Questions

1. Is there any one model of providing guardian ad litem services that is clearly superior to others?

There is no universal agreement on the "right" or "best" way to provide guardian ad litem services. However, there are several factors that appear important to ensuring quality guardian ad litem representation. These are adequate compensation of guardians ad litem: mandatory, comprehensive training programs; and a system that allows for flexible use of resources.

2. Are there other steps that can be taken to improve the cost effectiveness of guardian ad litem services and court-appointed counsel in abuse and neglect cases?

Several states have established a separate state agency, similar to the Office of the Public Defender, that is charged with ensuring the provision of quality guardian ad litem services and appointed counsel in abuse and neglect cases in a cost effective manner. Furthermore, a requirement that the court make a determination of indigency would help to ensure counsel is appointed only for indigent parents in abuse and neglect cases. Finally, changes in the collection of data to capture information related to guardian ad litem services and appointed counsel in abuse and neglect cases is a necessary prerequisite to any analysis of the cost effectiveness of Hawaii's present system of providing guardian ad litem services.