Put me in coach; just give me a chance…

Some of my community already know, but if you weren’t aware, I am a volunteer Guardian ad Litem.

What is a Guardian ad Litem?  A Guardian ad Litem is an advocate for a child whose welfare is a matter of concern for the court. In legal terms, it means “guardian for the lawsuit”. When the court is making decisions that will affect a child’s future, the child needs and deserves a spokesperson – an objective adult to provide independent information about the best interests of the child. While other parties in the case are concerned about the child, the Guardian ad Litem is the only person in the case whose sole concern is the best interests of the child, and is assigned as an advocate for the child for the duration of the court process.

In other words, it is a tremendous responsibility that I take very seriously.

Guardian ad Litem truisms:

  • There are no ‘easy’ cases.
  • Just because you can have babies doesn’t always mean you should.
  • The good news is, you were born so you have a chance; the bad news is, you were not born in the lucky sperm pool, so your chances of success were greatly diminished.
  • Whatever your frame of reference for normal is, fuhgeddaboutit.
  • If a child has been removed from the home, there was a reason and usually it involves something pretty bad.

Tell me about a case

For obvious reasons the information I have access to is confidential; but I do have access to everything including medical records, police reports, psych evaluation, report cards, etc.

I won’t go into specifics, but I have just accepted a new case that will be very challenging. The 5 children (all under 5) have been removed from the home.

In this situation, the parents want their kids back; meaning they are willing to comply with any case plan DCF puts together for them. Due to the extreme nature of this case however, complying with the case plan is still no guarantee they will get them back.

In most cases, reunification is the least bad of the three options; with the options being reunification in less than an ideal home situation, foster care w/ possible adoption, or group foster home when there is nowhere else for the child to be placed.

I am not the ultimate decider, but my opinion does carry weight. This particular case has a long way to go, but I have a feeling it will be a difficult one.

What, if in your gut you know if these kids come back home, their chances of succeeding, being productive members of society, are almost nil? However, if the recommendation is termination of parental rights, I know with almost 99% certainty these kids will be separated and placed in different foster homes.

Tough choices indeed and I feel ‘family‘ carries the most weight but what if keeping them together is dooming these kids to failure? Who am I to make that recommendation? I’m only one voice however as it is a collaborative effort with the social service agencies trying to reach a consensus, but these are the choices being discussed.

I just want to make a difference in someone’s life

Another truism I forgot to mention is, most successes, if any, are not easily identifiable. Just because I get involved in a troubled kid’s life and try to be a positive influence, there is no guarantee they will finally see the ‘light’ and and instantly become model citizens.

However, I also believe there are no throw-away kids and if you are on the team of ‘life’, then put me in coach, just give me a chance…..

Does that make me special? Absolutely not, but it sure has taught me humility and to be thankful for what I do have. I am probably learning more life lessons being involved in this than in any other endeavor I have done, including raising my own family.

Let’s just say, when you think you are having a bad day; you probably have no idea of what ‘bad’ really looks like.

That.is.all.

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47 thoughts on “Put me in coach; just give me a chance…

  1. Wow Bill, tough calls here. I’ve done some work with troubled teens in the past and it’s a challenge. It’s like where from earth and they’re from Pluto.

    It’s hard to reach and communicate with troubled teens.

    I can’t imagine having to be in your position. Making the call whether or not a child should be with parents who want to try to be functional and squashing it would be a hard call.

    Lots of ‘stuff’ to weigh in on your decision. These kids are lucky to have you representing them.

    • One of the biggest challenges I face is getting them to believe in themselves and get away from their peer group or whatever is holding them down. Some are so starved for attention or affection, they are willing to hook up w/ just about anybody, regardless of how destructive if might be.

      It’s easy to think when you see kids living in squalor to just pull them out and stick them in foster care. However, more times than not the kids just want their parents to quit doing stuff that will get them removed and to just live at home regardless of the conditions. That is the big reason there are no easy cases.

      It has been interesting, and I speak the truth in telling you how humbling this has been.

      Good to see you and thanks for weighing in; always appreciated.

  2. Such a huge responsibility, Bill, and thank goodness there are people like you ready to “step up to the plate” to give these children and families a chance. I can imagine that you see some very dismal situations, so it takes a special kind of person and caring to do what you do. Kudos to you for being there for those who need someone in their corner.

    • The great thing about the ‘district’ I’m in, the Guardian office has done a tremendous job reaching out to the community and getting volunteers. The goal is to have a ‘volunteer’ for each case that comes across their desk.

      It’s interesting how I have ‘developed’ in the program and now they have a comfort level of giving me ones with a higher level of difficulty. I learned it by just ‘jumping in’……somewhat like social, huh? You certainly can’t be timid, because you are speaking up for these kids.

      Sometimes it is hard to see the gains, but I do feel it is a worthy endeavor on a much more personal level than just donating money.

      It’s one of those things you can never get too comfortable however, because craziness is bound to happen at any time.

      Thanks for you thoughts and presence; always a pleasure to see you ma’am.

  3. Awesome, Thanks for putting things in perspective and being someone who really does Care. God bless you, my friend.

    Al

    • Big Al as in Alabama as in National Champs, huh?

      Most of the time as adults, we create our own problems. With the kids, they were born into and have no choice.

      I do care and hopefully somewhere, somehow it is making a difference even if it is only in a little way.

      Good to see you sir; hope things are moving forward for you.

  4. Bill. Just by doing what you are doing you have made a difference. There are so many sides to your personality and this one is oh so admirable. Humility is a great check against the excesses that life can throw at us.
    Your point about having a bad day is well taken. My wife and I were disvussing some business issues last night which in the grand scheme of things are pretty trivial. Thanks for sharing your story and take comfort in the fact that you are making a difference no matter the outcome. After all, and as you said, you are only one part of the equation. A really good part though.

    • This program has been a great ‘teacher’ to me on so many levels. I feel I am much less judgmental; I really don’t sweat the small stuff; it has made me appreciate what I do have much more; and, it certainly humbles me. As they say in the MasterCard commercial, the value of that is ‘priceless’. And us old dogs thought we couldn’t learn any new tricks………:).

      I will confess I might have been a little naive when I signed up as I was nowhere prepared for the ‘rawness’ of it and the real life issues the kids are dealing with; but it has been rewarding and I’m glad I’m ‘all in’.

      Thanks for your kind words; I told the Guardian office they would have to double my salary which they gladly did; what does 2 X 0 = anyway.

  5. Hi Bill,
    I think one of the hardest things in this kind of work (especially if you are competitive and like to win) is the reality that your influence is limited and you will be confronted with many scenarios in which there isn’t a great outcome. It can wear you down. I think the saving grace is that one’s effort sometimes pays off in unexpected ways and these long shot wins (hail-mary-completed-football-pass type of victories) are incredibly worthwhile and satisfying. Hang in there and give it your best shot.
    Riley

    • The judge who swore us in told us not to expect significant victories. Sometimes just keeping the kids away from the abuse is a victory all by itself and even that is iffy because the kids don’t want to leave the home and they certainly don’t want to talk about it.

      Some months are more active than others, but the reality is if I spend more than 6-8 hours a month, that’s a lot. It’s when the kids get put in jail and the court appearances is when you have to pay a little more attention. The case managers see them much more than I do and I also rely on them to be my eyes and ears as well.

      I have found it rewarding; it fits my personality well and hopefully I can give back enough that it is making a difference.

  6. This one breaks my heart! I would adopt (or foster care) all 5 in a heart beat to keep them together. Not that YOU should, could, or are even being asked to.
    I have two friends now in their 40’s and late 50’s who had really abusive childhoods. The younger one kept reporting abuse and finally left home with the first man who showed up when she was 16, just to get out of the house because nobody listened.
    The second had an older brother who tried to keep them together as they made their way through the foster care system ( she calls it the “prison” system). She was more abused in those homes than when she was left at home to have her brother watch out for her.
    The parents in both families were suffering from generational learned habits of abuse, none aware enough or supported enough to break the cycles.
    But this I know: both of my friends are incredibly wise and reach out to youth, children, and whole families with what they learned. They learned social. emotional, and physical survival skills. They are amazing with their own children, finally breaking the cycle of abuse in their generation.
    The court system scares me to death. I don’t envy you your role or responsibility to these kids. I would say pray your heart out and go with your gut because no family is perfect. Children do have a feeling for what’s best for them if they feel safe to express themselves. They may not have the foresight to see the consequences of being taken out of the home or staying. But I’m with you, keeping families together is #1 to me.

    • With the generational cases of abuse, even though the kid might think it’s not the right thing, they are not outraged enough to report it. In fact, they are more likely embarrassed and don’t want anybody to know about it.

      Your friends would be very typical cases if they had been in the ‘system’. I will defend foster care, because at least we have a place to take these kids. However, obviously some are much better than others.

      The group foster homes are challenging, because now you have all the ‘troubled’ kids in one place. Regardless of what kind of controls you have, it is very easy for ‘bad’ stuff to happen here as well. Typically once group foster home is your option, it’s hard to find a foster family that will take you in.

      The other option are the runaways and living on the street and there is plenty of this that occurs. The young teen girls are the most vulnerable to be abused and exploited in these situations. Yes, it is a big yuck….

      My wife did say if I was going to be a volunteer that I could not bring any of the kids home; she knows me, I probably would…..

      Thanks for you thoughts.

  7. With the word Coach in the title I just had to come see what you were talking about!

    My first thought was Wow, and what a responsibility. It takes courage to take on that kind of responsibility, and that you’ve accepted this role ensures that you make a difference in a profound way. Because the thing is we’re always making a difference; it’s how we’re making a difference that’s the key.

    • I was a little intimidated at first, just because it was such a huge responsibility. The interesting thing was the first case they gave me was supposed to be easy and close w/in 90 days. Well, the stuff hit the fan and it took much longer than that. I got to learn about the court system, the jail system, and therapeutic lock down real quick.

      Trial by fire and it really, really opened my eyes as to the reality of the ‘system’; but I became a grizzled veteran quickly.

      If nothing else, if I can be a positive role model and a non-judgmental adult speaking on their behalf that probably helps them more than anything.

      Good to see you; thanks for your thoughts.

  8. Bill,

    I knew you were an awesome person! Thank you for making a difference in children’s lives.

    I have seen first hand children that go astray simply because they have not been shown that they have worth. I believe that is the key: they need to be shown that they have worth. You are giving them that chance and I applaud you for doing this.

    I am a firm believer that ever person has something that they are special at. Every person. Whether you are somewhat of an Einstein, a great artist, a great barrista or simply someone that works their magic as a mechanic. All of these contribute to a working society. And all should be viewed as worthy. You are helping a child know they can contribute by giving them worth.

    Your post has brought me to tears.

    Thank you so much for not only giving your time and know how but also your emotions. I am sure this really can take its toll on your emotional well being at times. I am sure things can get very frustrating when you know what is best for a child and it is not granted, just like you stated.

    And most of all, thank you for not giving up. You are doing a great job in making a difference in someone’s life. The children you help will be better for it and so will society.

    ~Allie

    • One of the hardest parts about this job is finding the ‘real’ truth and even if you do, making the decision is it enough to remove the kids. Even if you see a totally horrendous situation, almost every time the kids do not want to be removed. They just want their parents to quit abusing them.

      The other challenge is, the parents will try to befriend you which can make it more difficult discovering the ‘truth’. The kids have been coached if you tell anybody what’s going on they will take you and make you live with strangers.

      If you are not intimately familiar with the ‘system’, it would probably flabbergast you how big and extensive it is. And unfortunately, most of it is putting a band-aid on a knife wound. To make it work for me, I have to drill down and just think about what is best for my kids and make sure I speak up enough to see they are taken care of.

      It has been interesting and challenging. The Guardian office has some great people I can call anytime when I need to discuss or have questions which allows me to just show up, which I can do well.

      You know how ‘they’ say reality bites? Well, you don’t get much more real from this and it can certainly be pretty raw at times.

      It’s good for me; I think I get much more out of the program than I am able to give back. I am definitely an advocate……..

      I’m glad you got your comment in; I had it happen to me at somebody’s else’s site and when it disappeared I was not very happy.

      Thanks for your thoughts and kind words.

  9. Tough situation, Bill and one that I’m glad you’re a part of. You obviously care and you have been at this role long enough to know the dangers and potentials associated with any choice you make or opinion you offer. I’m currently working on a judicial campaign for a friend who is currently a GAL Attorney Advocate, and before that an Assistant DA. The stories she has told me have put a whole new spin on how I raise my kids and what I do to protect them.

    Thanks for your time in the lives of these children. It means more than any of us will ever know. Of that, I’m sure.

    • A judge who is familiar with social services and the children is a bonus. I’ve been in front of some hard asses and they have seen and heard it all and usually form strong opinions regardless of what the facts are. However, I do know the kids who have their Guardian in court with them are treated much better than the ones who don’t have family and/or a Guardian.

      Yes, definitely hug your kids and thankful they will be nowhere near the ‘system’.

      Good luck w/ the campaign; sounds like a great judicial candidate.

      Thanks for your kind words; I do find it rewarding.

      I hope all is well and you have a great weekend.

  10. Sometimes Billy makes himself look so good, job number one for the rest of us… doesn’t need any doing.

    I’m proud of you, Billy. I’m honored you put up with me. God bless you.

    • Ha, it takes a lot more than volunteerism to make me look good; I can only do it w/ support of great people like you.

      There is no glamour in this work but I do find it rewarding. It’s like social in a way; it’s not something I talk about much, it’s just something I do.

      Thanks for your kind words sir; I look forward to the day we are able to hoist a beer together.

  11. I have more than a few social workers in my family and have heard some truly awful stories.

    I remember one story about things that happened to a couple of these kids and I was grateful that I didn’t know names or addresses because I might have ripped the arms off of both parents and beat them silly.

    The kind of help you are rendering is invaluable and so very important.

    • You really have to withhold judgment and as I was explaining a ‘visit’ to my wife and what was going on, she said she couldn’t do it just for that reason; she would speak her mind. It really is a truism about throwing ‘normal’ out the window.

      The social workers are under a tremendous amount of pressure and exposure to danger at times; a lot of the good ones leave just because it gets to them. However, I have had the opportunity to work with some really good ones. The Guardian office has a great team as well. Sometimes the ‘system’ looks ugly and unwieldy, but these guys give me faith some good is being done.

      I think volunteer is a good role for me. It’s kind of like being a grandparent I suppose; I can be involved just enough to make a difference, but go home and get away from it when I need to.

      Good to see you, hope your day is going well.

  12. Ok, this is the toughest volunteer job at the moment. The fact that we think of the bigger picture and the bigger picture is important – the kids future – makes it even more a tough call. Ok, I am not making things easier and I really don’t know how to.Nothing really guarantees that tomorrow will be beautiful. But we can give it a try.

    Some kids have made me awesome in foster homes and some have made it crappy despite having the good things in the world and sometimes no matter how much anyone “helps”, some things don’t fit in right.

    But what does guarantee that things might work for them..no one really knows. I mean you can have crappy parents and still turn out to be awesome and then you can have awesome parents but still be crappy.

    We need to take a lesson from this. My mom always told me this – whenever you think you are having a bad day, think about the kid who doesn’t have a roof and think about the people who just died of hunger and then move on.

    Also, the world needs change, it needs help, it needs support, we have to be there. We have to give humanity a chance.

    • These kids are already on such a precarious path that you hope maybe your nudge allows them to make a better choice that truly does have a positive impact on their lives.

      The challenge in trying to help these kids is it’s hard for them to see the ‘big’ picture; what their life will look like at 30 or 40. However, they are making decisions that can have an impact and provide challenges at those ages if the right decisions aren’t made. And of course, more times than not, bad decisions are being made.

      Until you walk a mile in their shoes, you don’t really know how bad it is; but I can say from the outside looking in, it’s not real pretty.

      I like volunteering and this seems to suit my personality; hopefully I am having an impact.

      Thanks so much for dropping in; always a pleasure to see you ma’am.

  13. Hi Bill…what a generous thing you have done…you have committed to sharing your heart with children who need as much heart as they can possibly get. The ultimate decisions that are made about these kids lives are not made based on algorithms with data plugged in to equations…the ultimate decisions that are made about these kids lives combines the visceral experience of the wisdom of the heart and the intuitive sense of the brain. These kids are very lucky indeed to have you be part of their lives…and to have input into the potential outcome of their lives. With people like you around them, their chances of finding themselves is increased substantially. Thank you for your generosity and compassion.
    Claudia

    • See, I gave you a chance to get philosophical again….:).

      Most of the time the kids don’t know why bad stuff is happening to them or why their parents are hurting them. A lot of times they think it’s their fault. By the time I’m brought into the picture, they are usually in pretty bad shape by that time; it’s hard to get them to believe they are worth something and can still have a good life.

      I feel like I learn much more than I can give, but this type of volunteerism fits my personality. Hopefully I’m doing some good, huh?

      Thanks for stopping by; always a pleasure to see you.

  14. I just wanted to thank you for the level of confront and calm you put into situations that could break or harden a heart.
    Thanks for this.

  15. Hi Bill,

    Man are you contributing to society, but this is so much responsibility. I have never had to make a decision that would have such a profound impact on someone’s life, outside of my family of course.

    Anyway, talk about hard calls to make, especially with kids who are born into these situations. One of my pro-bono clients is a coalition called Foster Promise and they are actually working on the positive transformation of foster care. It’s more about increased awareness, but again that foster option is something someone like you has to so carefully consider.

    Tough job, my friend.

    Some of these family situations are so horrible, so the help you’re offering is pretty amazing, really. Good going.

    … BUT … Hey, wait a minute … You’re supposed to be the funny guy who talks about burrito farts and taking his pants off at the dry cleaners. And the guy who keeps bustin’ my chops.

    I assume he’ll be back next week?

    • Trust me, the burrito fart guy is still there………

      Even as serious as this stuff gets, I can keep a sense of humor and sometimes the kids appreciate having an adult who isn’t all serious and can get down on their level.

      I wasn’t really prepared for how ‘raw’ this was going to be and how real some of these problems are, but it was good to have a reality check because this was so far from the world I live in.

      It suits my personality and it was something I thought I could have more impact on a one on one basis. The ‘wins’ are usually big ones, but there are some in there.

      Good to see you; I’ll try to be funnier next time…..:). Have a good weekend sir.

  16. When you think you have it rough… WORD. We really don’t have an idea how rough it is, myself included. I have friends who have carte blanche to smack me upside the head when I get too whiney. We really don’t know from struggles… or how even the smallest thing can make the biggest difference in someone else’s life. I have all the excuses in the world for not trying; thanks for the kick to the rear to get over it already and do something. FWIW.

    • Because of the nature of some of the stuff the kids deal with, the kids are embarrassed and don’t want to talk about it. They build walls and it’s hard to break those walls down. Also, this bad stuff becomes their new norm and they just learn how to live with it.

      It’s crazy at times and certainly always an adventure; unfortunately it’s at the expense of the kids.

      I find it rewarding even when it doesn’t feel like I’m making much progress at times, but I keep plugging away. It suits my personality.

      Good to see you, hope you have been well. Thanks for dropping by.

  17. Thank you, Bill, for being compassionate and generous and opening the door to another world.

    I am deeply impressed. And I know you make a difference in the lives of these children, putting a grain of trust in their hurt souls, showing them that you CARE and that there is hope.

    We take the good things in our lives for granted and revolve around our small problems, thanks for giving perspectives. At times, it is hard to see!

    Have a great Easter break, Barbara

    • Thanks for the kind words; it has been something I have found rewarding and has certainly been a learning lesson. It’s a world you kind of know exists, but until you get in it, you don’t have any clue.

      It suits my personality and in a small way, it’s a way I can give back.

      It’s given me a greater appreciation of what I do have, that’s for sure.

      So good to see you; I hope you are getting your mother well.

      Have a great Easter weekend.

  18. Hey Bill,

    That’s a great story. I am sure you will be able to help the kids in all the right ways, knowledgeable as you are. Back here in India , there is sometimes too much parental pressure on kids. A lot of kids commit suicide because they did not get grades. It makes me wonder why parents would want to put undue pressure on them.
    I wish there was someone there to help them like you are doing. I hope one day I will be able to do something like you are doing.
    Really touching post and I thank you for sharing this with us.

    • Thanks for the kind words and weighing in with your thoughts.

      Like you say, kids already have enough pressure trying to fit in and if you layer them up w/ a bunch of bad crap too it can get ugly. Sometimes their coping mechanism makes them do bad things too.

      When I first heard of the Guardian program I felt it was something I wanted to do; it took me about 5 years to finally commit to it, but I’m glad I finally did.

      Hope all is well sir; have a great weekend.

  19. It’s hard enough to parent when you have everything going for you in the first place.

    When everything is against you, including yourself, it’s hard to imagine.

    God bless for the work you’re doing.

    • Hey Julie, thanks for stopping by; hope you have been well.

      These kids usually have so much going against them it’s hard to convince them this doesn’t have to be their life.

      Thanks for the kind words, much appreciated.

  20. God bless you, Bill Dorman! My heart breaks for these children and my heart is touched by you. Once serving as a Guardian Ad Litem myself, I see the weight of this responsibility. I know it has consumed you in the past and this case can be no different. What you are doing requires a special calling and I just want to say, thank you for the brave work you do with these children, you have stepped up and expect no recognition

    • It suits my personality so even when I have to deal with some really ugly stuff, just knowing it’s much uglier from the kids perspective keeps me moving forward. Sometimes the victories are not big victories but I have seen some. Cases actually do close and some you feel that maybe the kids will make it and not get back in the ‘system’ again.

      Thanks so much for weighing in; hope you have been well.

  21. Hi Bill,

    I have no idea what it’s like, but I think I have some idea about how important it is that you are doing that job. I have heard of some cases in Norway, but there are probably even worse examples in the US (a huge country and a lot more diversity).

    Keep sharing the personal stuff Bill, I really enjoy reading it (I’m currently on the ferry from Denmark to Sweden)

    I hope you’re having a wonderful day.

    • Unfortunately, there is too much of it and all I see are the cases that make it to social services. Somehow, some kids are under the radar with no help at all.

      Hope your time in Denmark has been fun, I guess it’s back to work on Monday………….oh wait, you are working for yourself now……..:).

      Good to see you, catch up with you soon.

  22. Wow Bill, I don’t know if I would want that responsibility or not. I do know that I could and would make the best decision based strictly on what is best for the children but, even going into foster care isn’t always the best either. I guess I’ve heard so many horror stories about what happens with some kids that it’s actually a no win situation.

    I admire you for wanting to be an inspiration for these children. They didn’t ask to be born into some of these families and it breaks my heart to know some of the things they have to deal with.

    Just like you said, go ahead an complain about your day but in reality, you should be thanking God you have it so good.

    I hope this case as all your other ones goes well Bill.

    ~Adrienne

    • A big challenge are the young teens because they are already dealing with so much and then you throw foster care and embarrassing situations at home they would prefer not to talk about. It’s very easy for them to gravitate towards trouble and things that are not good for them.

      Our main objective is to keep them safe and hopefully be a positive role model as deal with all of this. Whereas the kids are very ‘worldly’ in many ways, they are still just kids.

      It has been good for me and hopefully what I give back is helping in some way.

      Thanks for dropping by; always a pleasure…………..:)

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