Sunday, January 26, 2014

"The snake goes into the hole"

is what a young girl told her mother one night before taking a bath.

On another occasion this girl told her mother -

"I have to hold the snake until it dies" - one night while she was bouncing up and down.

Awhile later the Guardian ad litem did a home evaluation of both parents. During the visit with the father he talked to the Guardian ad litem about his daughters pet snake. When the Guardian ad litem visited with the mother - the mother voiced concerned about the "snake" at the fathers house. The Guardian ad litem brushed off the "snake" the daughter talked of - saying that the father and daughter were exploring nature. That the mother was letting her imagination get the best of her and it was of no concern.

If you were the Guardian ad litem - what would you do? Take the test to voice your opinion and to find out what happened - TEST. Don't want to take the test - follow this link to read about the outcome - MeGAL Complaint

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Friday, January 10, 2014

The Ethics of My Cousin Vinny - Is this Really Guardian ad litem training?

What is involved in training Guardians ad litem? Given the Guardians ad litem job, one might imagine a rigorous training program in which professionals designed the curriculum to match the job description, rules and.... the needs of the consumers. So much is on the line -  the recommendation of a Guardian ad litem  can and will have a major impact on the dynamics of any divorcing family.  It might be expected that the training they receive would be top notch. The courses they take would have some bearing on the job Guardians ad litem are authorized to do.

In the past several years the Judicial Branch, Maine Bar, MEGALI and Kids First Center, to name a few organizations, have offered training and continuing training (please note that what is offered is not continuing education) to the states Guardians ad litem. We would ask to what legally mandated, job related aim are courses such as:

The Ethics of My Cousin Vinny
Collection of GAL fees
Parental Alienation: What’s the GAL’s Role?
Youth Participation in Court Proceedings

None of these organizations that train have a specialized training background in curriculum development for job related training, such as one would get from an institution such as a college, or technical school or the very focused training used in large business enterprises. The courses listed come from the continuing training list that is available to Guardians ad litem. There is no description of what the courses entail and if they are relevant to the role of Guardian ad litem.

Then there is the question of if the person(s) giving the training is uniquely qualified to give training on the topic at hand?

Take for example the following:

Understanding, Assessing & Responding to Needs of the Triangulated Child - This interesting course might be just the thing for continuing education in social work, but Guardians ad litem are not social workers and by the rules published, they are not supposed to be doing social work.  Triangulation is a term that is used to explain family dynamics where one member of a family will not talk with another directly. Instead a third family member is used which creates a triangle of communication. It is a term used in psychology to help explain dysfunctional family dynamics. This is not a topic that is relevant to the role of Guardian ad litem. In addition, for a course such as this one would expect that it would be presented by someone who has a background in psychology. In this case it was presented by a lawyer.

The Social Cognitive Connection - This is another social worker course - good for social workers, but off topic for Guardians ad litem. What the term means is that people do not learn new behaviors only by trying them out. The survival of people is dependent on how people act in a socially acceptable way and that this behavior is rewarded. It is a term used in psychology to explain the way people learn, understand and react to the environment in which they live, work and play. This course was presented by a member of the board of directors of an organization that is heavily connected to the Judicial Branch. This organization is so connected to the Judicial Branch that it is promoted on the web site. There is no indication that the presenter has any background to present such a topic, or that she tailored her remarks to the specifics of the Guardians ad litem legally mandated job.

Parental Alienation - What’s the GAL’s Role?: This is another trendy topic for social workers but far removed from what the Guardians ad litem role is defined as. Parental Alienation is when a child expresses a strong dislike or even hatred towards one parent - usually the non-custodial parent. To explore this dynamic takes hours of time and as a result generates billable hours and social work improvisation. This course was presented by an organization that represents the best interest of the Guardian ad litem - not a psychologist or even a social worker. Maybe a more appropriate tile should have been "Parental Alienation - How a GAL can profit from it!"

While the above examples may be fun or interesting to attend, are they courses that will improve a Guardian ad litems mandated job performance? Probably not because as a Guardian ad litem the role requires the investigation of facts surrounding the divorcing family and the child(ren) involved. It does not require the use by the Guardian ad litem of psychology and sociology - that is what the professionals in those areas are there for. Those professionals have the education and training to interpret and understand a child, and have spent years studying the concepts needed to do so. A few hours training does not give a Guardian ad litem the needed tools to accomplish the task. Yet quite often they do. The need to tie training tightly to job function and only to job function seems to be lost on the family courts and Guardians ad litem themselves. The result are fun courses that lead to the use of junk science, psycho-eugenics and moral equivalency that infects the courts like a virus.


When Guardians ad litem, soak up "My Cousin Vinny", it is at the expense of learning the less "entertaining" rules for Guardians ad litem.  To us, it appears to be a significant defect in Guardian ad litem training.  It also makes the reports of off topic/off role improvisations and creativity in the Guardian ad litem's role more understandable.  "Social Work lite" takes some Guardians ad litem back to the understandable security of their parent profession but it corrupts Guardian ad litem functioning (and confuses the public) by neglecting the role and functioning of a Guardian ad litem - that of a court appointed investigator.

The reform of Guardian ad litem training has to be a vital aspect of Guardian ad litem and court reform.  Sorry Vinny, you're fired!

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Would you want a Guardian ad litem with this kind of training?

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Would you want a Guardian ad litem with this kind of training?

This is a look at two businesses. One financial the other legal. Both deal with sensitive information, rules and regulations. Both have training programs to give the tools needed to stay within accepted standards and compliance. Both are radically different.

With these two examples ask yourself who is better trained to handle difficult situations?

1. Training consists of 8 weeks of in class study during which the process, rules and regulations are learned. There is some applied training where the students are able to study situations as a means to gain experience. Students are tested at certain points. This allows for the trainers to verify at least a minimal understanding to perform the job. There are also group discussions which at times involve people who have experience. These veterans able to give real life experience as to what the new trainees can expect. There is some role playing between seasoned professionals and the new trainees.

After 8 weeks of in class training the new trainees are able to put what has been learned to practical use. While in a real environment there are seasoned people available to answer questions. There is also several weeks of quality control to make sure the new trainees are doing the work properly and to correct any issues right away. This type of mentoring and internship tapers off over time depending on how quickly the new trainee learns.

Throughout this training there is constant feedback to the new trainees. In the working environment that feedback is even more important as a mistake made could cost the company financially. Handling other people’s money can become highly charged especially when something is perceived as going wrong. There are layers upon layers of company as well as legal rules and regulations involved to make sure those handling financial transactions are within compliance. Support from seasoned employees assures and reinforces the understanding that is needed to help customers while staying within compliance.

2. Training consists of 16 hours of in class study during which theory is learned. There may be some applied training where students are able to study situations as a means to gain experience. There is no testing during the 16 hours of training nor at the end.

After 16 hours of training there is no feedback to the new trainee. There is no mentoring or internship for the new trainee. Experience is gained at the expense of the consumer. There is no means of testing whether the new trainee is within compliance or whether or not there is a basic understanding of the rules that govern the way he/ she is to operate.

While dealing with a person’s finances is a world apart from dealing with the complexities of a divorcing family there are similarities. Both can become highly charged when something is perceived as going wrong. Both can have a huge impact on the individual(s) involved both currently and into the future. It is the training though that defines how well one does the job in question.

With the training examples given we see the training one receives for handling people's money and for handling people's lives. We see that with one - the process given to train people is extremely careful in its approach. That there are tools and systems to give support so that errors may be caught before they become major issues and hurt a person or family. There are safeguards in place to help the trainee to continue to refine what has been learned and gain experience and to do so not at the expense of the consumer. With the other we see a training process that has been developed to handle people - children and families - who are in crisis and need help. The actions of these trainees have the very real possibility of scaring the people they are supposed to help. There are no tools to help the trainees at any time. Experience comes at the expense of the families and children.  There are no safeguards in place to prevent this damage from happening. There are no systems to catch errors before they become issues.

The first is an example of a training process that is used by businesses. The second is used by the Judicial Branch in training Guardians ad litem. Would you rather  have a Guardian ad litem who has gone through a training process that has clearly defined goals, offers some means to measure understanding and offers support through mentoring and internship programs? Or would you rather have someone who has gone through the current training process of sitting in a room and warming a seat for several hours?

The answer is obvious. The Judicial Branch has a training process for Guardians ad litem that in a business environment would fail to meet the needs of consumers. Under the current model the Judicial Branch would be overwhelmed with problems and it would either go out of business because of competition from businesses that have better training programs or it would change to meet the needs of those it is supposed to serve.  But…. The Judicial Branch is not a business but a monopoly that is accountable to no one. It also has lost sight who it is supposed to serve - being more concerned with how the stakeholders will react than consumers. As a result sub-standard training is allowed and even encouraged. Where those that come up with the training (the stakeholders) curriculum do so based on their own experience. To say (or post on ones "Professional Trainings" page) that one has experience in developing training does not mean one has the necessary tools or experience to do so. Currently there is no cohesiveness in the goal of Guardian ad litem training.

The training for Guardians ad litem should be removed from the control of the Judicial Branch and the stakeholders that are enmeshed in deciding what is acceptable training. Training should be done by professionals who know and understand the goals that are to be achieved and have experience in developing curriculum.

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