“Keep the problems of clients and prospects confidential. Divulge information only with their consent.”Arthur C. Nielsen

The following link is from the Maine Guardian ad Litem Institute home and is about a training course that was offered by the institute:

2012 May 30: Parental Alienation

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!

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To make suggestions on ways to improve the system, please submit those to:lawcourt.clerk@courts.maine.gov