Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Conflicts between branches of government over GAL oversight

We believe the one big, overriding issue for GAL reform is the total lack of oversight of their work. This issue has been identified by several other important groups before - but in thinking more deeply about this issue - it is more than just a lack of oversight in the form of supervision. It is that most (if not all) GALs are licensed professionals - lawyers, social workers, and such. They are in professions that have legally mandated oversight by their various Maine boards of licensing, yet these professional boards seem to be disabled by current laws governing GALs  from taking any normal corrective action on complaints from the public.

The code of ethics and standards that apply to GALs under their licensed professions - somehow don't apply when they are in the role of GAL. As an example, a social worker working as a GAL may use his/her Social worker status on his/her professional letterhead for all purposes. The social work letterhead markets the GAL as a social worker to the public, yet if he/she violates code of social work ethics under that umbrella - while serving as a GAL - he/she has immunity, by the mere fact of being a GAL. The professional board is prevented from acting on its oversight function. The best it can do in an egregious situation is dismiss the case "without prejudice".

It seems to us that the very experienced Maine licensing board should have a major role in GAL oversight - since they are already overseeing and licensing these professionals in their base professional capacity.  They should not be disabled from so doing by law.

The licensing board and the Judicial Branch might ask themselves - why shouldn't the same ethical and other professional standards apply to both professional situations simultaneously? Any additional regulatory requirements arising out of the GAL role should be relatively easily added to the licensing boards mandate. The lines of professional accountability are currently very unclear for the consumer, who may incorrectly assume that a GAL who is also a Social Worker or other professional (lawyer, doctor) will be held to the professional standards of their base profession. And they are not. When functioning as a GAL, they are free from any accounting to their professional boards.

The current law governing GALs allows someone in serious violation of the standards and ethics of their professional licensing board to continue to function as a GAL, protected from any corrective action by their board just by the fact of being a GAL. The law currently disables the professional standards of the licensing boards. An unprincipled GAL is professionally bullet proof.

The judicial Branch needs to correct this appalling structural malfunction "In the best interest of children"!


  1. Is this really true that you can have a GAL, who violates his/her base professional standards and the licensing board can't touch him/her, if they are wearing their GAL hat?

    It is like saying, "all bank robbers should first get a job with the Judicial Branch and they'll be immune from legal charges by a DA."

    It is great protective covering. Where's the accountability?

  2. The concept of "dismissal without prejudice" is an interesting one. It is polite bureaucratic language that says, "We spot a problem that under other circumstances we might pursue." It basically indicates "We're picking up a lot of smoke, but we are prevented by statute from seeking the fire and extinguishing it." Can't go there just now.

    But it allows for a revisit to the same professional malfunctioning issues after the other "jurisdiction" has finished its long dragged out business. Dismissal under these circumstances does not mean "No problem". It means: We just can't touch it right now.

    It allows serious professional malpractice issues to be deferred for extensive periods of time; perhaps forever. It renders the licensing Board powerless to protect the public against allegations of substandard practice.

    In our opinion it is totally dysfunctional!

  3. Can GALs whose consumer complaints to their boards have been dismissed "without prejudice" continue to renew their license year after year under these circumstances? Can anyone do anything?

    1. Yes the GALs can because the GAL is looked at as an employee of the states judiciary and not a social worker (for example).

  4. The legislature could change the law. The Chief Justice could recommend a change, so could the Judiciary Committee of the legislature. So could the press. So could citizens banding together and demanding change.

    Silence gives consent to no change.

    The public needs education on this matter. Let's do it!

    1. May 31 2012 you will have an opportunity to be heard at the court house in Portland. The time is at 4 pm and we will be posting details in the upcoming weeks.

  5. It is troubling that the Judicial Branch hasn't already moved GAL oversight into the various licensing Boards that do a respectable job of professional oversight. Other states have used this approach in which a Judicial Branch delegates oversight to the Administrative Branch (Boards of licensure). When there is at the present, no GAL oversight in the Judicial Branch, it would see wise to move to "any port in a storm".

    It is also troubling that the JB continues to create new Guardians ad litem. These will go out into the world with no oversight, no way of knowing what they are up to, no damage control. Wouldn't it be prudent for the JB to put a moratorium on creation of new GALs, until there is some form of program management that can assure the public on issues of quality?