Without Enough Advocates for Vulnerable Kids, Lawmakers Push to Fund Guardian Ad Litem Program

April 12, 2018 10:42 PM

Vulnerable children need someone to look out for their best interests in court.

That's outside of their mother or father who could have a biased opinion in a custody battle or a child protection case.

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That's why state law requires that a Guardian ad Litem be appointed to children in custody cases and who are the subject of a child protection investigations. Guardians ad Litem follow the child's case by visiting with teachers, doctors, therapists, family members, foster families and the child. They then report their findings back to a judge to help with the ultimate decision.

RELATED: Guardian Ad Litem Program Overwhelmed, Lacks Standards and Oversight 

According to the Office of the Legislative Auditor, in Minnesota, there are roughly 500 children who don't have a Guardian ad Litem watching over them in times that could shape the rest of their lives.
 
On Thursday, lawmakers in the Ways and Means Committee made it known they want to see this program funded properly as they set a budget target for the Public Safety Committee of more that $7 million, asking that the committee put $3.7 million of those dollars into the Guardian ad Litem Program.

"We need to make sure that we take care of kids who are abused and neglected," Rep. Debra Hilstrom, D-Brooklyn Center, said. She authored the bill that would meet the governor's recommended funding for the program with the goal of hiring more staff. She also helped create the Guardian ad Litem Board and shape the program into what it is today.

RELATED: House Passes Bill Ensuring Voice for Foster Children 

But she says there's still a lot of work to be done.

In March, the board begged lawmakers on the Legislative Audit Commission for more resources.

"They are, at times, having to make decisions between visiting children or writing reports, and often have as many as 60 children assigned to them at a time," Guardian ad Litem Board Chair Crysta Parkin said.

The committee then told her to first put better policies in place. Only then would more funding be considered.

But Hilstrom says the problem is too urgent and growing too fast to wait any longer.

"I believe that if you want them to get the policies in place in a timely fashion, you should give them the money they need to do the job and they'll be able then to have people have time to go get the training and they'll have time to standardize those practices," Hilstrom said.

Child protection caseloads have increased more than 25 percent since 2015 due to changes the state made in recent years to better its child protection system.

On Thursday, state leaders recommended the Public Safety Committee fund Hilstrom's bill and make it a priority.

 

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Katherine Johnson

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