02 April, 2009

Day 9: graduation

Ordinary people with an extraordinary interest in breaking the cycle of child abuse. Our ninth day includes swearing in and receiving our "orders for appointment of guardian ad litem and authorizing access." district court-juvenile division, fourth judicial district. There is a sensation of power and responsibility to have a judge asking your opinion, requesting your assistance. We met informally with Kerry Meyer before she gave her speech and administered the official oath. The most moving realization washed over me when she pointed out that she was required to make decisions which will have significant impact on the lives of children she (frequently) has never even seen. Not even a photo. Nada, especially if the child is under 10. She knows nothing but what is in a  bare bones report, which she may have only read through briefly before the trial.
"...Further, this order authorizes and directs that the guardian ad litem shall be given access to and be furnished with copies of all information relevant to the child's and family's situation, including but not limited to: social services records; corrections department records; medical, counseling, therapy, treatment and mental health records; academic records; psychological, psychiatric and chemical dependency evaluations; and all other relevant records without the oral and written consent of the child or the child's parent(s). No claim of privilege or other claimed  right of confidentiality may be asserted to prevent the guardian ad litem from obtaining information relevant to this proceeding. The guardian ad litem shall have access to all information and records relevant to this proceeding, whether written or oral, which are in the possession of any person, corporation, political subdivision, organization, organization, agency or other entity. Nothing in the Federal Regulations, Minnesota Government Data Practices Act, Rules of Public access to the Records of the Judicial Branch, or any other statutory provision shall have access to the child including meeting with the child alone as deemed appropriate by the guardian ad litem. In an adoption proceeding or a case in which adoption is the intended permanency plan for the child, authorization is granted for the guardian to review the home studies."
Interesting, and more than a little bit intimidating. When I read this the first time I had to stop and get bigger somehow, in order to take in the meaning and depth of these words, to wrap my brain around the scope of that image  This statement covers pretty much everything. No stone is left unturned. But it goes on, just in case there is any remaining doubt:
"...the guardian ad litem appointed under this court order shall have access to protected health information as defined in that federal regulation, including but not limited to, psychological and chemical health assessments, which have been conducted by service providers deemed "covered entities" under the regulation. Access to this protected health information is for the purpose of aiding the guardian ad litem in her or his investigation and development of recommendations regarding the child or children who is/are the subject of this court order and may include protected health information related to the child as well as the child's parents or others designated by this court...shall continue until further order of the court."
In the face of feeling overwhelmed and helpless, perhaps hopeless, about how slow people can be in waking up to what is, this one, 40 hour journey, less time that it takes to drive to the West Coast, has been indescribably powerful. I remember the pain as I listened to the court proceedings a year ago. The frustration and compassion I felt for the man who tried to shoot my daughter. A man who had been neglected and abused from his earliest years and so desperately had tried to find a way to fit in somewhere, somehow with his peers. To re-build his self-esteem. And the words of his mother, thanking us, and describing her prayers for her son to wake up, to grow up. And her grand-daughter. We talk a lot about satisfying the basic needs of the child and providing what is adequate for the child. But in reality we are trying to prevent further trauma, we are not even talking about dealing with the trauma that has already been caused. So, this is where I am today: sworn to faithfully and justly perform all duties of the office and trust which I am assuming as guardian ad litem to the best of my ability.

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