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Guardian ad Litem Board Works to Improve Complaint Process

January 17, 2017 10:22 PM

Families are coming forward saying they don't trust the state's Guardian ad Litem Program. Soon, a survey will be out for those in the system to share concerns and ideas to make it better.

The State Guardian ad Litem Board defines the role as, "an objective adult to provide independent information about the best interests of the child."

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That person is a volunteer or state employee who acts as a neutral party to the case. They have no agenda other than identifying what the best interest of the child may be. It's a big responsibility because what they recommend to the court about the child's future will more than likely be followed by judge.

At Tuesday's board meeting, mothers came to plead with the board for a better system.

"My one daughter reported sexual abuse. She's ten years old. They're denying an attorney for her," said Bonagh Dalton, a mother of three from Anoka County.

According to state law, children 10 and older who request an attorney to speak on their behalf in a child protection case are entitled to legal representation.

"I thought a guardian ad litem was to help the children," said another mother pleading with the board for help.

They are some of the same women who marched on the Capitol in October to pressure the state to introduce the Safe Child Act. Among other things, it would ensure substantial training for everyone who interacts with children in the system.

Now, they're in front of the State Guardian ad Litem Board asking for change.

"In the complaint system, many of our attempts have been basically shut down and we get retaliated against," Dalton said.

The board doesn't take individual complaints at meetings. Instead, it refers the public to its website to file a formal complaint. In a 15-month period that ended in November, only four complaints made it all the way up to the appeals panel out of 10,265 new cases where a guardian ad litem was assigned. That's not even one percent.

"I have not seen one example of a guardian ad litem overstepping beyond his or her authority or the scope of their duties,"Board member and St. Cloud Police Chief William Blair Anderson said at the meeting.

Despite the difficulties in getting answers, the mothers speaking out at the meeting have banned together to form the Minnesota Stop Abuse Campaign and are beginning to get attention from lawmakers.

"Listen to the people who have been through the system," Representative Peggy Scott said to the board. "Learn from their experiences and try to make change accordingly."

None of the complaints mentioned at Tuesday's meeting made it to the final appeals panel. However, in the coming weeks the board will post a survey for the public to share input on how to make the complaint process better.

Credits

Katherine Johnson

Copyright 2017 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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