The Foundation for GAL Reform – A Job Description

A job description is like the foundation of a house. If you have a good and well built foundation the house that sits upon it will also be strong with few problems. If you have a poor foundation (or none), your house will, shift and shake, lack stability and have a lot of problems. Job descriptions are used almost universally throughout business, industry, government and elsewhere to put boundaries on a job, to describe roles and responsibilities, to give lines of authority and accountability. They are a key management tool. In normal oversight, managers ask, “Are you following your job description? You need to improve this or that part of your job description.”

Maine’s Judicial Branch is currently attempting to tackle the issue of Guardian ad litem reform. A  committee has proposed a complex new procedure for complaints about Guardians ad litem; another committee is currently addressing the issue of Rules and Regulations for Guardians ad litem. But … er, folks, excuse me, there is no job description for Guardians ad litem. We have before us a collection of a new complaint procedure and new Rules and Regulations – both in search of a job description. There is no formal description of a Guardians ad litem job to which the Rules and Regulations can be tailored. No roles and functions, no lines of authority, no lines of accountability that are universally a part of a regular job description. There is also the matter of training of Guardians ad litem. In most settings in business, industry and government, the job description is the template, or basis, for job training and education. Training flows from the job pattern and re-enforces the job’s roles and functions.

Great work, everyone. Now we just have to find a job that all this stuff will fit! It’s doing things backwards.

No job description explains the current Guardian ad litem training design. It presumes a base of knowledge for which there is no evidence and adds a smidgen (16 hours) of social work and lawyer. Lawyers and Mental health or Social Workers have very different bases of knowledge, skill and experience. As one educator told us; education of Guardians ad litem is one root of the current Guardian ad litem problem. The “tap root” is no job description. Without a job description, it leaves the Guardian ad litem in the position of being all things to all people.

The problem is that, while fixing the Rules and Regulations may make the house look clean and polished, these Rules and Regulations have no job description as a grounded  foundation. The foundation is missing. In most settings Rules and Regulations would normally provide direction about how to play out the content of the job description. They elaborate on where the boundaries are located, and rules imply a problem when boundaries are crossed or ignored. They can be specific items reviewed in supervision and in internal organizational corrective action or in external complaints. But in the JB system, there is no supervision of Guardians ad litem, which leaves Rules and Regulations as a sort of disconnected, pious hope. An amorphous, very ambiguous claim of Guardians ad litem working in “the best interest of the child” – something that every parent is also doing – is not a substitute for an actual job description. There is no formal statement that defines who or what a Guardian ad litem is or does, their lines of accountability, their roles and functions.

A reliance on “works in the best interest of the child” as a job description accords the Guardian ad litem a magic mantle of omnipotence and omniscience that no other job in America holds, a sort of high priest/priestess accountable only to God, and the appointing court. Maine is faced with a huge problem with the Guardian ad litem system that starts with these questions: what are Guardians ad litem, what do they do, how are they trained, who has oversight of them, how is this exercised? A final very important question: are children and families safe as a result of their actions? And (this afterthought) why is everyone paying megabucks for this service?

Simply reviewing and rewriting Rules and Regulations for Guardians ad litem with no job description, does begin to address the core of the problem – just what is a Guardian ad litem?

Please let us know at what you think is wrong with the Guardian ad litem system. To find out more about what is wrong visit us at