Volunteer Guardian ad Litem’s Question Answered

By Anne, a Fellow GAL

 

"The DCM won't answer my emails or phone calls"

 

This is the volunteer GAL’s biggest complaint, and rightly so. You can control your own actions in the case, but what do you do if the dependency case manager (DCM) won’t get back to you – how do you get the required information?

 

Texting is our biggest friend in this regard. The DCMs are super-busy and often are not in a place where they can respond aloud, such as in Court or on a visit. When I start a new case, or when the DCM changes, I first text them to introduce myself and let them know I’m glad they are on the team, and to let me know if I can help in any way.

 

If there comes a time when they are not responding to your texts, it’s time to ramp it up. First, I would make sure the information I want is not in Optima, then email the DCM, cc’ing my CAM and the DCM’s supervisor. If there’s no answer in three working days, forward the same email to the DCM’s supervisor, cc’ing your CAM and also the supervisor’s boss. What you’re doing is going up the chain of command.  If there is no answer by the next working day, ask your CAM to follow up for you.

 

Of course, if you see the DCM at a different case hearing at the Courthouse, ask to speak with them for a few minutes. They’ll usually apologize for not responding to your request for information.    

 

You have to face up to the fact that some case managers just will not return your calls. It’s not that they don’t like you or that they don’t think a Guardian should have the information, that’s just how they are. Accept this and work around it. I have known a DCM for about 15 years; she is an excellent case manager but just does not communicate. I just work through her supervisor and we get the job done.

 

The final step is to get a fellow-Guardian “Venting Buddy”, so you can let off steam to someone who gets your frustration!

The subject of communication with your DCM directly ties into one of the Guardian ad Litem Program’s core values:
 
Communication Built on Trust- The Program has a culture of open communication, active listening, teamwork, and regard for the views of others. This includes being honest and straightforward with the children we represent in keeping with their level of age and maturity.”
 
Open communication affects every person with whom we Guardians deal, first and foremost the child. We must be as honest as possible with the children, even though we sometimes have to phrase our responses very carefully. We say we are the one constant in their lives, but that means they must be able to trust what we tell them. We must not make any promises, but just tell them that we’ll do our best.
 
Active Listening, again, is important for our relationship with the child, and also with the caregivers. As a child becomes more at ease with you (maybe on a trip to McDonald’s) he/she will start chattering freely, and you can learn a lot about that child’s current and prior life, their thoughts and wishes for the future. Apply the active listening to your relationship with the caregivers also, who can be a gold mine of information that you don’t even have to dig for, but use a filter – remember the caregivers may have a bias. Many caregivers are worn down and overwhelmed by the demands of the Dependency System, they’re tired and grouchy – and with good reason – but it can affect the kids they care for. Listen carefully to what they say about their feelings; it might be time to find them some help. 
 
Regard for the views of others. A caseworker might have a different opinion than yours, listen to what they say and weigh whether it would be in the best interests of your child. Be honest with yourself, talk it over with your CAM, and think about it for a while. Listening to the case worker’s opinion might encourage them to discuss the case further with you – and to listen more closely to your views.
 
Teamwork becomes part of our everyday life. We need to keep a good open line of communication with everyone connected to the case, so we can truly achieve an outcome in the best interests of the child.

 

About the Guardian ad Litem Program

Thousands of abused, abandoned and neglected children become the subject of judicial proceedings each year in Florida. Their voices are often unheard and best interests overlooked in the complicated and overburdened adversary process. Guardians ad Litem (GAL) are citizens who volunteer to become part of a court program to represent the best interests of an assigned child. The volunteer Guardian ad Litem is a representative for the child before the court, social service agencies and the community. He/she also protects the child during the family crisis, court proceedings, and follows the child’ progress.

About Friends of Children of Brevard

Friends of Children funds clothing, beds, bikes, computers, diapers, school supplies, luggage, holiday gifts, duffle bags and other items not provided by government agencies. We also provide these children with some basic opportunities and access to normal childhood activities.

 

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