WRITING a REPORT TO THE COURT
REF. SOURCE DOCUMENT: Chapter 17–Report Writing – Florida Bar Family Law Sectionwww.familylawfla.org/…/pdfs/Ch_17_How_to_write_a_GAL_Report_2.pdf
Shirley Holland, R.N., Judicial Circuit 7 Guardian ad Litem Program, Circuit Director
Jody Alvarez, Circuit 7 GAL Program Director
Alicia Washington, Esquire, Circuit 7 GAL Best Interest Attorney
Stephen Simmons, JD, GAL/Mentor, Circuit 7 Volunteer Advisory Committee, St. Johns County
- The Guardian ad Litem “Report to the Court
- Recommendations and Observations of the Guardian ad Litem:
- Observations of the Child / and Guardian Visitations:
- Observations on Parental Visits / Sibling or Familial Interactions:
- Services Needed for the Child:
- Statement(s) of the Wishes of the Child:Child’s Status:
- The Report Format
Case Style and Introduction
Purpose of Appointment and Report
Recommendations of the Guardian ad Litem
Analysis and Summary
Certificate of Service and Signature
SAMPLE Judicial Review Report to the Court
Report Timing Guidelines
The Guardian ad Litem (GAL) “Report to the Court”
The report should follow a recognizable format. The report should be written with numbered sections for the purpose of reference. Title each paragraph.
Using a uniform style assists the court and parties in finding information quickly. Uniformity will increase the court’s confidence in you and in GAL Program generally. Using a uniform format for writing your report will also decrease the opportunity to miss an important point.
Keep in mind there are timing requirements for filing your Report. Generally, reports are to be filed with the Court a minimum of 72 hours before a scheduled hearing. Your assigned Child Advocate Manager (CAM) and the GAL Best Interest Attorney (BIA) will also need additional time to review your report prior to the filing deadline.
To keep organized it is suggested that you set up your Judicial Review (JR) report format when you accept the assignment. As a “best practice” method the report should be started as you organize the “Visitation Report” from the very beginning, utilizing the same topic headings as the JR. Begin with the sections that you know immediately, the caption, the parties, the names of contacts and sources you want to interview, and the like. Then, fill in each section as you progress through your investigation.
- Make your summarizing recommendation.
Then support that recommendation with comprehensive, succinct observations and reliable quotes. Supportive reports and documentation can be incorporate as attachments that can be referenced in the content of your observations.
- Recommendations and Observations of the Guardian ad Litem
Below is a list, inclusive but by far not exhausted. The themes have been developed as a means of clarifying the points that should be made under each broad Topic heading. At present, it is felt to best achieve your GAL task of presenting to the Court what is in the best interest of the child, a simple pattern, prioritizing you RECOMMENDATIONS, followed by your observation supporting this conclusion. If there is more than one recommendation under each Topic heading, separate each for simplicity of purpose.
A. Permanency Recommendations
- First and foremost emphasize the permanency recommendation and why you support that objective.
B. Placement / Safety:
- General location of the child. It is not necessary or perhaps advisable to have specific addresses.
- Type of Placement E.g. foster care, relative placement with maternal grandmother,
- Child interaction/ bonding with caregiver,
- Does it appear that the child is thriving in this placement and does it appear to meet all the child’s needs?
- Time in current placement. E.g. if child has been moved around,
- Implementation of a safety plan, are conditions being met.
C. Observations of the Child / and GAL Visitation:
- Frequency of GAL visits with the child E.g. bi-weekly, monthly, last visit, etc.
- Include a summation of the last visit,
- Overall progress from 1st observation of child,
- Changes in demeanor/behavior,
- Behavior with caregiver,
- Progress in school, report card performance.
D. Observations on Parental Visits/ Sibling or Familial Interactions:
- Parent / sibling / relative visit frequency,
- Behavior towards, progress or bonding issues.
E. Services Needed for Child:
- Health cards,
- Educational needs/requirements
F. Wishes of the Child:
- What they say about what they feel and want. Sometimes it doesn’t always appear to be in their best interest. It is however what they believe they want.
- Private audience with the Judge, sending a letter,
- Special activities,
- Visits with family members.
G. Child’s Status:
- A summary of the state of condition with regard to the present circumstances,
- Current medical status including medications and diagnosis,
- Present educational status, school they are attending, grade, progress etc.
H. Other Comments / Recommendations:
- Special visitation requests,
- Church attendance,
- Summer camp requests/attendance,
- Review / Comment on the Department of Children and Families (DCF) Case Plan, accomplishments / lack of,
- Extracurricular activities.
III. The Report Format
- Case Style and Introduction
The case goes at the top of the page (i.e. court, case number, and parties). Include a title for the document being filed, i.e., Guardian ad Litem Report to the Court. Include the date the Report and date of the Hearing.
Introduce yourself by name as the Guardian ad Litem, i.e. Mr. Joe Smith, the Court appointed Guardian ad Litem. Standard writing is sufficient; you do not need to be an accomplished author to write a good report. Simply write in a coherent manner what you see and hear. There is nothing wrong with writing in the first person. It is your Report to the Court.
2. Purpose of Appointment and Report
State the purpose per Court Order of the GAL appointment. If the Order does not specify the purpose for the GAL appointment, include in the Report what you understand was the purpose.
This is especially important to note in the report when you are handling a limited issue, for example, relocation.
3. Recommendations of the Guardian ad Litem
Your “RECOMMENDATIONS” should help the court fashion an order that helps this family reach the best outcome for the child. If you are not sure about making an ultimate determination, for example, on parental responsibility then state honestly that you do not have sufficient information to make a recommendation. Go further, and state what would assist you in helping the court in making the determination, such as an expert evaluation.
When making a Recommendation for a referral to local services, be specific. Recommending known community resources and providers is one of the most valuable services a GAL can provide. For example, if you recommend therapy, include what you think the therapy should address and name a suggested provider.
Use bulleted ( ) paragraphs for each Recommendation and follow with the supporting information directly under the Recommendation. Make each one succinct to a point or subject. You may have more than one Recommendation for each Topic.
Prioritize. Put the most important Recommendation first.
4. Analysis and Summary
Each highlighted recommendation should be supported by a summary of facts and observations. This supporting paragraph is where the GAL summarizes and identifies what was learned from the various sources.
REMEMBER the facts you include in your summary should support your Recommendations. If it does not support a Recommendation, it is probably irrelevant to the Court. If you have Recommendations unsupported by facts, it is a red flag that your investigation is incomplete or perhaps biased.
Reciting allegations and concerns by specifying carefully what each parent/caretaker told you they are worried about. It lets them know that you listened to them. Information from “professionals” (i.e., doctors, teachers, therapists) vs. lay witnesses (i.e., family, nanny) should be reported separated
It is generally better to be specific in the GAL narrative, even so far as quoting what you heard.
Be detailed. Being detailed can make it easier for the attorneys to move the case through the system. They can analyze the strengths and weaknesses of their case and thereby better inform and advise their clients. Detailed summaries and analysis lets the participants know that you were thorough, took good notes, and really listened and observed.
Organize your information in the manner best suited to supporting your Recommendations.
If you have made a recommendation for services, the summary may include an analysis of this specific recommendation, and suggestion of a particular provider. Part of the role of the GAL is to refer the parties to professionals for necessary types of therapy, tutoring, rehab, etc. If you make a specific recommendation, explain yourself. For example, if you recommend that the mother engages in dialectical behavior therapy (a treatment for bipolar disorder) with a particular provider. Explain what you reached that conclusion and why it applies in this instance.
5. Child’s Preference
This is each child’s “stated” preference (if made). It may be where he/she prefers to reside or visit or do homework with, etc. It is important to include the child’s perspective because they may, for various reasons, not attend all court hearings or testify in the case although the child often attends the JR hearings.
Do not promise the child that what they say to you will be kept confidential, ever.
It is sometimes preferable to leave the matter unsaid than to promise secrecy.
Quote the child, where possible.
Some additional information of your assessment of the child’s maturity may be included and may support the child’s preference. Earning a child’s trust and confidence so that they feel comfortable truly confiding in you, is the heart of being a GAL.
- Study and research children’s developmental stages can help.
- Using your own special skills and interests can work. Being patient and developing the relationship over time is sometimes needed. If you explain to the child what you are doing in a way they understand, even very young children can understand the importance of candor.
- Look for clues and underlying shades and tones. Refer to artwork, school journals, statements to teachers or friends, and the like, can be helpful.
- It is important to speak to a child in different settings, at mom’s and at dad’s, and at different times and circumstances.
- Look for alienation or coaching through unusually adult phrasing, strange phrasing, use of legal terms, inconsistencies, and phrases repeated by the adult (which is not conclusive of coaching but something to consider). None of these conclusively prove alienation or coaching, but are possible signs. A sixteen year old may know legal terms just because they know, and may have picked up on their parent’s hardship even with that parent trying hard not to engage in alienating behaviors.
- Be sensitive to the possibility that even asking certain questions of a child can be very disturbing to them. Only in the rarest of circumstances do you ask point blank, “who do you want to live with”. Do not ask questions that you have no expertise in asking such as those dealing with possible criminal abuse by a parent. Ask open-ended questions.
- Ask questions designed to determine to which parent the child is most oriented, comfortable with, and reliant upon. For young children, fantasy is both real and safe. Ask for example, if there were a fairy king in this room who knew everything about you and made all the rules, what do you think that king would decide about which days your mom tucks you into bed and which days you dad tucks you in. Use language a child understands.
- Be imaginative and sensitive. Treat children with respect and dignity. You are their voice, protector and advocate. This is the section to make it real to them.
6. Certificate of Service and Signature.
Be sure to provide your report timely… to your Case Advocacy Manager (CAM) they will see to it that the appropriate parties receive the information. The final Report should be signed by you, in your capacity as the Guardian ad Litem (GAL), not as a lawyer or any other role.
IN THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE
7TH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
OF THE STATE OF FLORIDA,
IN AND FOR ST. JOHNS COUNTY,
IN THE INTEREST OF: CASE NO: DP13 – xx
Ourfavorite Child DOB: xx/xx/xxxx
GUARDIAN AD LITEM REPORT TO THE COURT
Guardian ad Litem: Your Name Type of Hearing: 2nd Judicial Review
Date of Report: xx/xx/xxxx Date of Hearing: xx/xx/xxxx
Length of Time child(ren) in out of home care: 16 months (from December 20, 2014)
Number of Placements: 1
This matter comes before the Court as a 2nd Judicial Review. The child was removed from the mother’s home by DCF in December 2013 for cause, and has been in the same foster care home since that time. The GAL was assigned as a result of alleged negligence of the child being left alone for extended periods of time.
As the Guardian ad litem, I respectfully make the following recommendations supported by observations I have made or statements I have obtained.
- The current goal is reunification and the goal date expires on April 30, 2015. This goal remains appropriate.
The mother has successfully completed each of her case plan tasks. Based on this GAL’s observations of the mother’s interaction with the child, the mother is demonstrating that she can provide safety and appropriate care for her child, the GAL recommends reunification be ordered following successful completion of the visitation extensions recommend in section iii. The GAL requests that the Court order that the DCF be provided with the authority to reunify, with the concurrence of the GAL.
- No placement changes are recommended at this time.
The GAL has confidence that the current placement of the child, Monica, with the maternal Grandmother, is safe and appropriate until Reunification is ordered by the court.
2. Observations of the Child/and GAL Visitation:
- There were not any noticeable apprehensions with the visitations.
This GAL visited this child (Monica) 8 times since the last JR in both the grandmother’s home and at school and last visited on 2/3/15. She is doing very well in her grandmother’s home and at school.
Her teacher reported to me that Monica is always on task and making good progress with her grades.
The child and her grandmother appear to have a very strong bond and the relationship appears to be healthy with both the grandmother and mother.
3.Observations on Parental Visits/Sibling or Familial Interactions:
- The GAL recommends that the mother be granted weekly, unsupervised visits, first in a public place for a period of one month, followed by weekly over-night visits for a period of 4 weeks, followed by the planned reunification with the mother if these visits are successfully achieved.
I also observed two visitations between the mother and the child. Mom and child have a close relationship and my observations of mom’s ability to appropriately parent the child are all positive.
4. Services Needed for Children:
- With the noted exception all other services have been provided.
At the 1st JR (6/12/2014), the GAL requested, and the Court ordered at that time, that the child be taken to a dentist for an evaluation of her dental needs for significant repair of several teeth. That appointment has not been scheduled, and the GAL strongly recommends that the DCF schedule an appointment within the next 10 days and report to the Court and the GAL that the appointment has been scheduled and with whom.
Wishes of the Child(ren): The child, Monica, age 8, has a strong bond with her mother and has informed this GAL that she is very anxious to be live with her mother again. She said, I love Nana, but I want to live with mommy, cause (sic) I love her too.
Child’s Status: Monica very much enjoys ballet lessons and the grandmother has agreed to continue taking her to her former ballet school to continue those lessons, even if she resides with the mother. The grandmother lives in the same school district as the mother, so no change of school will be required.
5. Other Comments and Recommendations:
As the Guardian ad Litem appointed by this Court to assist the Court in determining what is in this child’s best interest; I assert I have met with and established a rapport with the child, contacted those persons significantly affecting or having relevant knowledge of the child’s life, gathered information, examined records and otherwise investigates the child’s situation in order to provide the Court with pertinent information and informed recommendations.
Volunteer Child Advocate (GAL) Date
Child Advocacy Manager (CAM) Date
I HEREBY CERTIFY that I reviewed the above Guardian Ad Litem Report to the Court and that it is being filed herein pursuant to Fla. Statute(s) 39.701 (2)(b); 39.807 (2)(b); or 39.822(4).
By: _________________________________, Esq. _____/_____/_______
Best Interest Attorney (BIA) Date
Guardian ad Litem Program
Report Timing Guidelines
|Emergency Custody Hearing Date:||(This hearing takes place within 24 hrs. of the child’s removal.)|
|Arraignment Hearing||(within 28 days of the Shelter Hearing)|
|Adjudication Hearing Date:||(within 60 days of custody)|
|Disposition Hearing:||(no time frame, often held immediately (no time frame, often held immediately|
|First Judicial Review:||(within 90 days of disposition)|
|Second Judicial Review:||(within 6 months of 1st review)*|
|Third Judicial Review:||(every 6 months thereafter)* *Generally replaced by permanency planning hearings|
|Permanency Review:||(within 12 months of custody)|
|Permanency Hearing:||(30 days after order) (required as a result of an order ceasing reasonable efforts)|
|Second Permanency Review:||(within 6 months) (every 6 months thereafter)|
|Termination of Parental Rights:|
|Post-TPR:||(within 6 months of TPR) (every 12 months thereafter)|
|Review of Placement Plan:||(within 6 months of relinquishment by parent or when TPR is pending or when no placement is found and TPR petition filed, and every 6 months thereafter)|