Who Is Watching Our GAL’S?

In our opinion, Maine Guardian ad Litem Institute and others who consider GAL supervision, seem to have totally overlooked the complex goals, legal boundaries, chain of command, risks and authority issues that pervade any grounded concept of GAL supervision. Anyone proposing supervision designs – of any sort –  must think through the snags and pitfalls that may not be apparent at first.  As but one example, it appears to us that Maine Guardian ad Litem Institute’s present, existing concept of group supervision of GAL’s cases has not been carefully analyzed in terms of the multiple systems issues that are apt to challenge it.  In our view, among other considerations, it quite possibly may be in violation of the laws of confidentiality.

GAL supervision is a  very complicated issue.  Conceptually, one is looking at the idea of supervising “an officer of the court” who is appointed – not employed –  by the court,  whose fees come from consumers who are adversaries of each other, and who may themselves in the end be adversaries of the GAL.  Then, there is the child who is supposed to be the GAL’s primary client and, finally, there is the judge.  Who precisely is the GAL working for?

Because GALs are created by the Judicial Branch of Maine government, and  since they are appointed by a district court and work under court orders, they are working for Maine’s public court system.  And … under what authority would the supervision of a court officer derive?  There appears to be nothing in the statutes that defines the roles and responsibilities of a GAL supervisor in any type of what might be called broadly supervisory activities.  Can non-governmental outsiders (like Maine Guardian ad Litem Institute) empower themselves – just by say – so – to supervise public officials of the Judicial system, such as judges, clerks or GALs?  By what process of legitimation?   Wouldn’t a GAL supervisor also need to be created by the Judicial Branch and appointed by courts to supervise every GAL?  What would be the goals of GAL supervision: a focus on how a GAL fulfills statutory role requirements, a focus on handling clients, a focus on dealing with the courts? How would such a supervisor evaluate the GAL’s handling of each of these separate  relationships?  What would be the chain of command for a supervisor?   To whom would a supervisor report, what would they required to report, and what supervisory standards would they observe?  Who would evaluate the supervisors, what would they evaluate and how would they do it?

Just declaring that you are a supervisor of a court appointee, a GAL or whomever, doesn’t make it legitimate.  It is ungrounded, unclear in terms of its legitimating auspices, lacks a basis in law and it raises a slew of subsequent questions.  Or … otherwise, anyone could simply declare themselves the “supervisor” of, say,  the Chief Justice – out of thin air, because of some shared common interest.  Obviously, such a claim would be totally presumptuous or misguided.

There are a number of other serious questions about this complex, potentially conflicted set of supervisory relationships that at present seem to go unexamined and unanswered.  Most importantly, who owns the highly sensitive, private  information about the family – the object of supervision, and who can give permission for a GAL to share it with a GAL supervisor (without legal standing), who is unknown to the parties? The court, the GAL, the clients, the child?  What happens to any idea of confidentiality in this supervision? What is the liability of a potential GAL supervisor, if there are complaints of malpractice about a GAL?  Is a putative GAL supervisor responsible for reporting supervisee malpractice to the authorities?  Can they be subpoenaed in court cases?    Are GAL supervisors in a position similar to Catholic bishops in cases of clergy abuse?  Would a supervisor share the legal immunity claimed by a GAL, where would it come from and what would be its extent?  Would malpractice insurance cover GAL supervisors; would they be required to have it?  Can a supervisor who is also, say, a lawyer, an advocate, a lobbyist and a promoter of the GAL industry, also provide objective supervision on work quality of a colleague, who is a partner in these other activities?  Isn’t there an inherent conflict in these roles, and isn’t it likely to occur?   We feel that there would be a lot of built – in role conflict, and we doubt that any putative GAL supervisor would willingly “rat on a professional buddy” with whom they work closely in other activities – educational, political to name a few.

It is our sense that there have been attempts in the past – made without analysis of the complexities of the systems involved to graft a social work conceptual model of supervision onto the role of a GAL,  someone who works under the auspices of a regulated public, legal system and there is no basis for that sort of graft to take on a foreign system, and … beaucoup problems.

The issue of GAL supervision is a good example of how attempts to solve a problem with insufficient analysis and insufficient input from other perspectives might actually make the problem worse!  There is a need for outside consultation and consumer input on the issue of GAL supervision!

In the best interest of Maine’s children!

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