Volunteer Guardian ad Litems are assigned to a case when it enters the juvenile court system. The Volunteer GAL’s role includes conducting an independent investigation, making reports and recommendations to the court at scheduled hearings, monitoring the progress of the child and the parties’ compliance with court orders, and continually advocating for the best interests of the child. Ideally, the assigned Volunteer GAL will follow the case from the beginning to the end and will continually visit and monitor the progress of the child and report on these observations to the court.
Volunteer GALs are crucial to meeting the goals of the court in providing for the best interest, safety, and well-being of the child. Volunteer GALs are able to assist the court in reaching the goal of swift and appropriate permanency planning to establish stability for dependent children.
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In 1977, Judge David Soukup, presiding judge of King Co. Superior Court in Seattle, started a volunteer Guardian ad Litem program to make sure he would know all he could about the long-term welfare needs of each child that came through his court room. During that first year, the King County program provided 110 trained volunteers for 498 children in 376 dependency cases. Following the success of this model, programs across the state and across the nation began to crop up.
In 1988, a Washington State program was formed joining local county programs and stakeholders to carry out statewide training, legislative advocacy, data collection, and awareness statewide about the issues affecting abused and neglected children in Washington State. The Whatcom County program was established in 2008 and continues to grow each year, both by number of volunteers and by number of children it successfully advocates for. Today over 85,000 Volunteer GAL's give over 260,000 children a chance to have their voice heard in courts across the United States.