I will define child advocacy from a Child Advocate’s point of view. As a court appointed Child Advocate, I represent a child’s best interest in court. Child Advocates go through extensive training, each being specialized to the laws of the state for which they reside. Child Advocates submit to a criminal background check before beginning their training. Child Advocates are also called Guardian ad Litem (GAL), or more popularly recognized as CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate). Child Advocates can be a paid profession or as in the case of Guardian’s ad Litem, it can in a volunteer capacity.
A Child Advocate is appointed where the law designates such appointment, to a child who has been adjudicated abused or neglected. Some states appoint Attorney Advocates and some states appoint both Attorney Advocates and Child Advocates. Not all states require the child to be represented by an advocate.
A Child Advocate’s main goal is to find the child a safe, permanent home as quick as possible. It is always best for the child that his parents provide him with a safe, permanent home. However, it should be noted that there are many instances when the parents do not understand the quick as possible concept.
Time is of the essence when you begin to advocate for a child. Children do not have a sense of time. When a birthday is missed or a holiday skipped, it is a memory lost forever, never to be replaced. Children can not afford to wait till mommy or daddy get it together “eventually”. They need permanency as quickly as possible.
A Child Advocate begin the case by completing a thorough investigation of the case, independent of all other authorities involved. The goal being to determine the facts involved and to make fact-based recommendations to the court concerning the best interest of the child. The Child Advocate also, when the child is old enough, advises the court as to the child’s wishes.
Keeping in mind that the best scenario is for a child to be raised by his parents, the child advocate determines what is necessary for the parents to be able to accomplish this. This could be anything from anger management classes and parenting classes to the removal of one of the parent’s from the household. Slow down, don’t get furious at that statement… perhaps one of the parents molested the child. There are counseling and treatment programs available for most problems that plague our society, however, being in the child’s best interest to provide a safe home, this may be a necessary step till after treatment is received.
A Child Advocate works with, but not for the Department of Social Services. The Department of Social Services can be a very valuable resource in advocating for a child’s best interest. The department of Social Services’ goal always begins with a goal of reunification between the child and parents. A Child Advocates goal always remains with the best interest of the child.
After the Child Advocate’s investigation is complete, a report is submitted to the court. This report includes a summary of the facts discovered concerning the case, a list of persons interviewed, records reviewed, dates of visits with the child, needs of the child, the child’s wishes, available resources within the community, issues for the court’s attention and recommendations to protect and promote the best interest of the child.
The case goes to court and everyone’s side is heard. The Department of Social Services present the case to the Judge. The parents’ side is heard, the Child Advocate’s report is reviewed and with all of the information provided to the court, the Judge determines what the best interest of the child is. The judge will order specific steps to be taken in order to achieve this, based on the reports submitted to the courts by the Department of Social Services and the Child Advocate.
The Child Advocate’s focus then shifts to determining if the orders of the court are being followed by the appropriate parties and to find alternative placement possibilities if the parents are not cooperating with the court.
Being a Child Advocate does not provide immediate gratification. The role of a Child Advocate can be a consuming role. It requires a determination that not many professions entail. You literally have the future of a child in your hands. There is no room for error and you can not put off till tomorrow what needs to be done today. Child Advocates look into the face of the devil on every case that they are appointed to, whether that devil be in the form of drugs or the very parents themselves. A Child Advocate does not leave the office and go home to their safe haven without their case, it is embedded in their hearts and minds.
When I begin a case, it consumes me, when I close a case, I am released knowing that I gave a voice to a child!