Saturday, March 3, 2012
My Day In Court
by Bruce Brady
I spent the day in Family Court yesterday. I wasn’t on trial. I was just observing. My wife and I are training to be Guardians ad Litem, advocates for children in court. It was hearing day and in the span of three hours, the judge heard and ruled on 16 cases, with another 12 to 16 to be heard after lunch.
As if working the drive-up window at a fast food restaurant, I watched one group of attorneys and defendants rush out while another group rushed in every 15 minutes. Expecting to see drawn, saddened, remorseful faces, I was disappointed to see most defendants were upset as if to say, “How dare you drag me away from my important life to sit here and listen to you tell me what I’m going to do!”
As the attorneys pleaded their cases and the judge decided what actions to take next, there was little to no mention of the children. My mind wandered to thoughts of how I might feel if I were yanked from the only home life I knew and shuttled off to some relative or to people I didn’t know at all. How would I deal with the uncertainty of never knowing if my parents would hug me or slug me? And I can’t even imagine the horror of being sexually molested by your father or a boyfriend numerous times before reaching the age of ten. Yet, these were the lives of the children who’d been removed from their homes by the state.
The official focus of the hearings was to decide the best courses of action to take with the abusive or neglectful parents, family members, boyfriends or girlfriends. It seemed little attention was paid to the fate of the children. They were seldom mentioned. And when they were, it was only to briefly describe the type of abuse or neglect they suffered.
Clearly, the children had no voice in court other than the Guardians ad Litem. And the Guardians are the only ones who don’t operate under the governmental pressure to get the cases closed and the children placed in the most cost-effective situations for the state. The Guardians, who are volunteers, are solely concerned with the best interest of the children and answer only to the judges.
Thankfully, most judges value the assessments of the Guardians and will adjust treatment and placement plans accordingly. So the Guardians do play an important role in the lives of the children and in helping the judges do what is best for them.
I learned many things by attending court. There’s a lot of selfishness out there. Most of us blame others or our circumstances for our bad behavior. And some people vent their frustrations by abusing children. Currently my county has less than 200 Guardians to handle over 1,000 children, and Guardians are limited to two cases at a time. If you have a heart for defenseless children, I encourage you to consider becoming a volunteer advocate in your county.