The Public Defender’s Office has attorneys on staff who serve as guardian ad litem (a lawyer appointed to advocate for the best interests of a child) in custody, parentage, educational neglect and neglect/dependency cases in Juvenile Court. The Metro Guardian ad litem (GAL) Program began in 1998 in an effort to ensure that specially trained attorneys would advocate for children’s best interest in juvenile court proceedings. The Metro GAL Program handles up to 80 clients at any given time.
The Court may, on its own, determine that appointment of a guardian ad litem is appropriate and appoint our Program; or a party to a case may request appointment of a GAL and the Court then appoint our Program. The court also appoints attorneys not a part of this Program to serve as GALs. Once appointed, all GALs are attorneys for the child- the GAL does not represent the court or the parents.
Often the cases the GAL is involved with include not only legal problems, but also social problems involving a child which find their way to court. A client advocate is instrumental in determining the needs of a child and how to best attempt to address those needs. Currently the Metro GAL Program is staffed by attorneys and by Ms. Jill Overton, a client advocate. The attorneys and Ms. Overton work as a team to investigate, identify the needs of the child and then attempt to address those needs, both inside and outside the courtroom. Examples of the team involvement include visits to homes and schools, speaking with the child/parents/other family members/service providers/school officials/and others knowledgeable about the child’s history, review of records and reports from school and other service providers, preparation of court documents and ultimately hearings & trials when necessary. A judicial officer at juvenile court is ultimately responsible for making a final decision regarding the children and cases before the court.