Representing Indiana’s Youth: The Work of a Guardian Ad Litem
by: Sarah T. Starkey, Attorney
Most often the stories that the media report on when it comes to children being removed from their parent’s care by the State involve abuse or neglect of those children while in foster care. This leaves the public with a bad taste in their mouth when it comes to thinking of those charged with protecting our state’s youth. While the stories of children being abused and neglected in foster care are most definitely newsworthy, so too are the stories of the successes in these cases, so seldom reported on by the media.
I have been able to work first-hand with many of the families involved with the Department of Child Services (DCS) through my work as a Guardian Ad Litem. As a Guardian Ad Litem, I am appointed by the court to represent the best interest of the child or children involved in some sort of abuse or neglect situation. Those situations can range from a parent addicted to drugs to parents who are involved in domestic violence. No matter the circumstances, the purpose of the DCS’ involvement is to protect the child(ren) and to provide the family with the services necessary to remedy the problem. While there can be resistance on the part of the parents to participate in the services recommended by the DCS, there are many instances where the parents fully engage in the process.
In the past 4 years I have served as a Guardian Ad Litem, I have seen a wide variety of situations, but the one thing that always amazes me is the resilience of the children coming from these situations. Sometimes I am lucky enough to see both the children and their parents completely turn their lives around for the better. These are the times when it would be beneficial for the community to see what a difference this system can make when utilized appropriately.
I recently had the opportunity to work with a mother of two boys who was able to overcome a longstanding addiction to drugs. Her recovery was due in large part to the resources that the DCS made available to her. She was able to receive drug addiction counseling and random drug screenings to help her stay on track and recover from her addiction. This mother was able to receive home-based counseling services which helped greatly so that she didn’t have to worry about transportation to and from appointments. She has been regularly employed for months now and the family is in a place most would never believe possible. This mother recently spoke to me of her skepticism of the process when the Department of Child Services first became involved. She told me that in the end the intervention of DCS saved her life. Needless to say, tears have been shed by all of the parties involved with this mother and her family, most recently tears of happiness.
Again, I do not downplay the severity of the situations where horrible things have happened to children while in foster care, but I thought it important to shed light on the very important fact that this system can and does save and change lives. I have found my work as a Guardian Ad Litem in these cases to be some of the most rewarding work I have done to date.