Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Can Maine Guardian ad Litem Institute discuss our cases?

We include the following from Maine Guardian ad Litem Institute home page for your information:

From what we can tell, some of Maine's Guardians ad litem held a alleged teaching session the day before the Judicial Branch (JB) hearing in Portland on May 31st. The Guardian ad litem Institute which is the trade organization for Maine GALs, was the sponsor and charged ($155.00 for members; $175.00 for non-members) for a session to share GAL "war stories" about their client's "parental alienation". Was your family's case or mine providing the assembled GALs with an afternoon of "stories from their case books?"

From the marketing notice of this meeting, it was unclear if there were any work-related learning goals for this so-called teaching. We doubt that there was any official JB licensing behind this alleged training of Maine court appointed officials. Without a regulatory mandate for this sort of group supervision using our real cases, it is in danger of becoming an ill-defined, unofficial, coffee klatch that may well violate confidences of clients and their children. Was the session aimed at enhancing social work skills or legal skills? Was this peer supervision aimed at correcting or improving the professional techniques and professional actions of anyone - which ones? Were all of the case presenters evaluated in how they performed in their cases, say - satisfactory, good or bad? Were they appraised by trade group peers as functioning with families and children as they should be? How would anyone know how to evaluate such a session? Most important, would their clients have agreed with their GAL's interpretation of situations that were presented? Would "peer GALs" be liable if one of those GALs attending and presenting a case happened to have been involved in an evolving malpractice situation? Who is accountable for quality in this format? How did this training improve performance of a GAL's statutory functions or is it an example of training that expands GAL role confusion and "mission creep"?

Bottom line legal question from our perspective: who gave the Maine Guardian ad Litem Institute permission to discuss our cases in a public venue? We need to be told by a government official associated with consumer protection whether this does or doesn't violate our confidentiality. Were there releases or permissions given by any of us consumers to talk about us as clinical examples of "parental alienation"? Or ... is it just presumption on the Institutes part that they can just do it. No one has ever questioned it before, so just do it! GALs are a law unto themselves.

There is also the matter of "informed consent". When we signed contracts with GALs at the beginning, were we informed (and did we agree) that our case might be on display in GAL training for a whole raft of other GALs who are unknown to us?  Even if case names are removed, in a small state, like Maine, identities can frequently be determined by the story itself.

In addition, there is the unspoken matter of what do all of these case discussions do to the rules/ethics about court officials discussing active cases out of court? Aren't court officials supposed to exercise some sort of restraint about discussing/sharing cases in a public setting? The Justices at Thursday's hearing were at great pains to avoid receiving any information that might later be used in court. Doesn't this same concern apply to court appointed GALs?

This apparently routine "training" exercise for GALs, making use of consumer's cases raises many ethical and legal questions. It calls for review and answers, and it desperately needs oversight!


  1. This type of "supervision" is based on mental health models, but these GALs aren't working for a mental health system. They work for/in a legal system.

    In most systems that respect client's private information (and the stringent laws of confidentiality), there is an attempt to obtain permission from clients/patients for the specific event ,or there is some form of "informed consent" at the start of the relationship.

    Nothing here of that nature. We wonder how many clients of GALs realize that their case is being discussed as a "main event" in GAL peer supervision.

    There is also the matter of the seriousness of this "peer supervision". is there ever any "corrective action" in peer supervision? Say, "Boy, are you really messing up! I'm going to have to report you to..." Can you imagine MEGALI's president ever having the nerve to sternly challenge the practices of their "legislative liason""? or a similar hypothetical situation? Then they go off to plot a campaign for advancing MEGALI, say, changing statutes?

    "Peer Supervision" in a trade organization is fraught with conflicts that keep it from being "real". It ends up as a nice game of "pat-a-cake"! Make believe, but using our stories.

  2. Who would be able to make legal judgement on this concern about violations of confidentiality? The Attorney General, or someone in the JB, or, as with many GAL jurisdictional situations- no one?

    1. You ask a very good question. In the past I don't think anyone has really thought about this issue. Right now my guess is that it would be no one. More to come though.

  3. There are various kinds of supervision that should be considered:

    1.) Line supervision or administrative (managerial) supervision in which a higher level person in an organization supervises (or manages) another worker. The essential issue in this type of supervision is: Is this person doing their job? Are they adhering to their job description? Are they meeting managerial goals? Are they effective? This type of supervision can indicate and document defective performance, suggest "corrective action" or impose progressive discipline.

    2.) Clinical supervision in hospitals, clinics and group practices is also usually conducted by a higher level practitioner, who has higher level knowledge skill and experience than the supervisee. The aim is to improve the knowledge, skill and experience of the supervisee, as these affect practices, and to correct bad practices. There may also be an evaluation of whether personality issues of the supervisee are making their work functioning less effective. The supervisor is a part of "quality assurance" of the organization's services and also is usually charged with managing "risk of bad practices" through the supervisory process. The supervisor is accountable to the organization and is an integral part of "risk management" and "quality assurance" for the organization organization. Disciplinary actions in cases of malfunctioning are usually a part of this process of supervision.

    3.) Peer supervision is most often seen in social service organizations or independent counseling practitioners, where a group of counsellors, with no formal organizational lines of authority, meet to discuss active cases. It is fraught with problems of accountability, quality assurance, risk management and a plethora of troubling legal questions. As a rule these issues are ignored, because no one has the authority to deal with them. They are all "peers" after all, so every action of a "peer" is strictly a matter of opinion of the case presenter and his/her "peers". As a result "peer supervision" is less about supervision in any classic sense of accountability and oversight. It is therefore less "peer supervision" and more "peer support". Further complicating MEGALI's "peer supervision" is the issue of its sponsorship by a "trade organization". Peers are involved together in multiple, other organizational activities that further the organization's goals. It is difficult to charge a colleague under such conditions with bad practice or malpractice. It will not reassure the public that serious problems will e rooted out.

  4. In any theory of professional work supervision, the core issue has to be: job performance. How is this person or these people doing their job? Is job performance good, satisfactory or poor? If there are deficits in performance, what are they? What is the plan to correct deficits in performance?

    In assessing a professional's performance, one generally reviews several generic categories: knowledge, skill, experience and personality factors. Does the professional have the required knowledge to do a good job, or are there deficits in their knowledge base (what are these deficits?)? Does he/she possess professional, technical skills (and what are they) to do the job effectively? Experience raises questions of whether the professional is a novice or a veteran in their profession and whether they have gaps in experience in handling certain types of cases that might require closer direct supervision? Personal factors are issues of personality or personal crisis that may affect the professional's work in negative ways, and that need supervision for "risk management" and "quality assurance" purposes.

    Supervision generally needs to be built on a review of all elements a supervisee needs to do a specific job, and on correction of deficits.

    For GALs with no current oversight and with functional job performance that has morphed away from the original job description, it is impossible to design coherent supervision or training until the job description is grounded. So-called supervisory sessions and lectures are essentially well-intentioned gatherings without specific job-connected aims. They may entertain or personally enrich the attendees, but are hard to justify, as either supervision or training. They are also extremely hard to justify legally when our case and those of other consumers are the content of the gathering.

    Who gave permission to use me and my family for peer supervision and training purposes?

  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  6. Would it be possible that a GAL would charge me for attending these types of sessions? There is no itemization on my GAL's bill.

  7. If you try to get information about your child from Health and Human Services you have to clearly establish the fact that you have a right to know. Just saying so isn't enough. You have to have proof of parenthood or a court order in order to satisfy the extremely stringent state and federal confidentiality requirements. It is about privacy, identity protection, identity theft.

    Try to get a balance reading on your spouse's separate bank account. The bank will require permission in writing from the spouse in question before releasing any information. They may not even say that there is an account in existence. Another example of tight confidentiality.

    The same confidentiality concepts apply to an investment account, a retirement account or other aspects of one's financial identity. Highly confidential.

    Then there is lawyer/client confidentiality. Physician/patient confidentiality. The aim in these professional transactions is to protect the client's confidences in fairly stringent ways.

    We now ask who owns our case story, this very personal information, our history? MEGALI or the client? By using our stories, without our knowledge, permission or informed consent, MEGALI acts as if they have some sort of title to our stories. Do they have a title to our story, or are they just claiming "squatter's rights"? What is the extent of any claims to title? Can they sell these stories? Can they publish them? Can they discuss them at out of state meetings, with friends? Are there any boundaries?

    Is this apparent identity appropriation "in the consumer's best interest?" How so? Does "peer supervision" without any disciplinary potential,without corrective action legitimate using our property?

  8. What would the ACLU have to say about MEGALI? What would Maine's AG have to say? Three guesses about what Maine's JB would say! Who created the major protections and entitlements of GALs in Maine?

  9. Do any of you read "Dear Abby"? The descriptions are vague but seeking some guidance. I suspect it is the same at these meetings. Something along the line of: "I have a problem case. Mom is telling me _______. Dad is telling me _____. The child was telling me ____ until recently when he/she suddenly said he/she no longer wants to visit mom/dad ever again. Mom's side of the family sides with mom; Dad's side of the family sides with dad. What questions do I ask to find out what changed? Who do I send the kid and/or parent to in order to determine if there is alienation or if there was abuse or some other reason for the change? What facts will I need to prove to the Court and how will I be able to present that evidence?"
    This was a training session to improve GAL performance. Why should you object to more/better training for the GALs so they can do their jobs better? Isn't your complaint that the GAL system needs improvement? There are confidentiality laws already in place to protect your specific identity, and those have been discussed with the presenters before they discuss their cases.

  10. Our major objections are several: (a) a use of our cases which fails to inform us that we are being used. (b) This is done with no permission from the owners of the material, us. (c) It is done with no informed consent in GAL contracts with clients, and(d) it seems to violate the ethics of court officials not to talk about cases outside of the courtroom. There are ethical and legal issues here that surround who owns the data, our lives? Yes, there are confidentiality laws in place (someplace) but it strikes us that there are serious issues here that you are violating them for the reasons noted above.

    The fact that you label "peer supervision" sessions as "training" and ascribe to it an ameliorative impact on GAL functioning is a simply a partisan claim with no credible evidence. You would need to show how a session which treats client confidences so lightly and which disregards permission from clients is good training for GALs. It is our sense that it re-enforces omnipotent arrogance in GALs that fails to consider how clients might feel about having their stories told to a group of strangers. And, yes, you may redact names and locations, but Maine is a small state and stories can be recognized even if names are redacted. There are no guarantees.

    Yes, GALs need training, but for and about what? These questions lack consensus at the moment. At the moment, there is no agreement on the GAL role and considerable open dispute in the JB about what it should be. Training has to be about the role functions in the "GAL job description." My sense is that one of the JB topics for reform is getting a clearer functional definition. Should GALs just collect family data and do reports, or should they do more social work type functions, like counseling, mediation and the like?

    There is also the serious question about whether a trade organization, like MEGALI, is the appropriate locus for training and supervision. As we noted earlier there are many conflicts inherent in their position as trainer/supervisor.

    Your personal/professional dilemmas are real. Before you can find answers there needs to be problem analysis followed by problem solving.