This is the critical issue for all "consumers" of GAL services: who will be developing a blueprint for GAL reform? Will the "shoe" get fitted to our actual, real foot as it is being designed, or will it be designed ''in camera' and handed out without a fitting after it's made? There are other closely connected questions: for whose needs will this particular "shoe" be designed? For GALs who have to work with it, or for "consumers", including children who have to experience it, or for district judges? Or for all three entities? What are the overarching goals of any planning design for GAL reform? How will "child's best interest" and "child's safety" balance out? Our sense is that clear, carefully articulated goals of any GAL reform plans are the most important determining task for JB planners. Everything is founded on goals, every planning action flows from them.
Our general feeling is that specific aims of a reformed GAL program are best determined in the actual planning process itself, by a fair, open process which encompasses diverse perspectives and diverse interests. But there are a mix of topics that, in our view, need consideration and explicit articulation in any planning process: legal goals, social goals, public health goals, child welfare goals, economic/cost goals, manpower knowledge, skill and experience goals, oversight and correction goals, public education goals and- not least- political goals.
We feel strongly that consumers must be involved in such a way that they will be able to support the design for reform that comes out of any planning process. Ideally, the planning design should be for and about consumers. It should be about them, their children, their families, their friends and their community. A starting point has to be the lives of consumers going through divorce- adults and children- that call for a public judicial service to facilitate this process in a safe healthy manner.
In the current situation (the existing GAL program), consumers are the best spokespersons for saying where the "shoe" pinches- and how badly. We know where there are things that don't make sense, or that seem outright crazy. We know the dangers to children. We know the most troubling problems with a lack of GAL accountability and arrogance. We have details about the poor quality of statutory observance, inaccurate reports, bias and an array of things which exemplify dysfunction and which destroy faith in Maine courts. We know where poorly trained GALs are way over their depth, spouting shallow judgments without any in depth clinical or legal knowledge, and hiding behind rigid dogmatism or formulas. In short, in our combined experiences, we know "where the bodies are buried." We know, because some of us have been buried with them. The question is: does the JB want to know too; not for a display of acrimony- but for planning which avoids problem repetition and inadvertent harm to consumers? Let's not do a replay on the current GAL-dominated, GAL-centered program. Any planning process has to begin with careful problem definition before moving on to solutions to the defined problems. As consumers we are "experts" on GAL problems!
There are several ways in which one can obtain consumer input:
(a) there is a "consumer's report, such as the Maine Guardian ad litem Alert Report, sent to the Chief Justice and many others on May 15th, and which has since "gone viral" throughout Maine.
(b) there is an open public hearing with testimony in which the JB made a very brave start on May 31st. Well done, we'd say!
(c) there is the creative use of a JB web site for public comment, problem definition and proposals for solutions. To which we say: "Top shelf"!
(d) there might be focused interviews by consultants gathering data about perceptions of various people representing various "interests".
(e) in the final analysis, however, there needs to be some integration of all of this diverse, rich data into a framework that leads to goals and approaches derived from this complex data.
(f) there also needs to be planning for evaluation and correction of plans- after they have been implemented.
Any final 'blueprint" will always have a few rough edges, unforeseen issues, and adjustments of fit that need correction after a plan has been given a run for a while. Any new GAL plan should have provision for a "1000 mile check up and re-tuning".
As consumer of GAL services - and with the scars to prove it - we'd ask to be an integral part of all aspects of planning for GAL reform. Not only do we represent a "political aspect" as one of the "interested parties" involved in this venture, but we also bring significant experiential knowledge that can't readily be gotten from other sources. We have spent a great deal of time studying and analyzing Maine's GAL problem, we have talked with an ever growing number of consumers. We have also looked at ideas outside of Maine as well. We have collected a great variety of opinions from many sources. We truly offer a perspective on the GAL problem that ought to be included in the core of planning.
And ... we are highly motivated and backed by others who are equally avid to see reform. We truly want to see the best interest of Maine's children and families served well. We want Maine to move into the forefront nationally and be recognized as a leader in this field. It can happen, if we all are involved in and all owners of a plan for Maine's children and families.