Forrest Firm in the Community with Guardian Ad Litem
August 30, 2021
Our highest goal here at Forrest Firm is to empower the people in our communities to achieve their full potential. One organization that many of our attorneys are passionate about supporting is Guardian Ad Litem (GAL). GAL volunteers help determine and advocate for the needs of abused and neglected children. Volunteers make regular visits with the children to assess their health, safety and well-being. They also attend visits with non-custodial parents when they are permitted to see their children, and conduct regular check-ins with social workers, doctors, teachers, and others involved in the children’s lives. Finally, they prepare reports in advance of court appearances to detail the status of the children, the efforts made by parents to comply with court orders, and then appear in court to represent the interests of the child. You do not have to be an attorney to volunteer with GAL in this capacity! You just have to love serving children and be willing to advocate for them in court.
Forrest Firm attorney and GAL volunteer, Heather Benjamin, has served six children to date. She says about her involvement with GAL, “I find it most rewarding when a child’s case is closed because their parents have complied with the court’s orders, for example, by recovering from their substance dependency, securing appropriate employment, and taking parenting and domestic violence classes. It is also fabulous when a child is adopted by a loving foster parent when it has become clear that the parents will never be in a position to provide a child with the love and care they need and deserve.” Forrest Firm Attorney Valerie Bateman has served four children with GAL in this capacity, and last year was able to see two parents who struggled with alcoholism reunite with their child!
Some Forrest Firm attorneys serve with GAL as appellate counsel. In these cases, the mother, father, or Social Services has appealed a decision that was made on whether the child has been abused or neglected. That is when volunteer appellate counsel will step in to finalize the facts, prepare briefs, and appear in court to give an oral argument on behalf of the child. Forrest Firm attorney Brian Bernhardt regularly serves as appellate counsel for GAL. He states, “Making an appellate oral argument is a highlight of my work…The GAL program allows me to help make sure that children are made safer and more secure. My victories are their victories. It is a wonderful feeling to know that I can do work that I like – briefing and arguing appellate cases – while simultaneously helping the most helpless people around, children who are living in brutally unhappy, inappropriate, and dangerous homes. I am working on my fifth appellate case for the GAL now, and I look forward to many, many more.” Valerie Bateman, who serves both as a child advocate and as appellate counsel adds, “I find this work very rewarding. It is super interesting to see how this law operates in people’s lives, hopefully for the best result of the child who is usually in a very tough circumstance.”
Forrest Firm attorneys Patrick Lineberry and Katie Greene also serve as appellate counsel for GAL, and together our attorneys donate over 500 hours of work each year to support abused and neglected children in our communities. They would each tell you that this is time very well spent!
Want to get involved in this exciting work? Remember, you do not have to be an attorney to volunteer with GAL! There are roles for both attorneys and non-attorneys. The only requirement is a love for serving children, and a willingness to be their voice in court when they are unable to advocate for themselves. You can learn more about the Guardian Ad Litem program and find out how you can get involved here!