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”!


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About cathycooper

Cathy Cooper and Paul Collins are residents of Midcoast Maine involved in divorce, custody and parental issues. One from the sideline and the other from personal experience. Both working on Family Court and Guardian ad litem reform through education and political process.