How Do I Explain the Role of a GAL to My Child?

by Kelsie Cross, Attorney, Royal-Will Law Firm | Feb., 2021 | 

A GAL is appointed to the case, and you want to prepare your child for their first interview with the GAL.  As the child’s parent, the child will look to you for direction on who this person is and whether they are safe. How you set the child up for their first interview with the GAL, and their overall interactions with the GAL throughout the investigation, will make a significant impact on the case.

Framing

The most important thing to remember is that framing matters.  How you frame the GAL to your child matters.  Before the GAL ever meets with your child, you have the opportunity to frame the GAL’s role in relation to your child, and this will make all the difference.  It will not only influence your child’s perception of the GAL, but it will also have a direct effect on your child’s comfort level with this person who plays a critical role in the case.

All children, whether they are two or twelve, operate with limited life experiences.  Children do not have context for every adult in their life, and they need your help in gathering that context for the GAL.  In order to give your child context, explain to them the reason why the GAL will be talking to them.  Let your child know that the GAL’s job is to look out for the child’s best interest, and make sure they are heard (kids love to be heard!).  Let the child know how important it is that the GAL talks to him or her, because the child is the most important person in the case (kids love to feel important!).

Calm Their Fears

In a child’s view, an adult is a person of authority, and being questioned by an adult can naturally lead to some worry in the child.  Some children will have adults in their life who have used questions to speak abusively to the child in the past.  It is important to remind the child that the GAL is safe.  It is also important to remind the child that they should not feel pressured to provide answers to the GAL if they do not know the information being asked.  The GAL, and ultimately the judge, will appreciate getting honest answers from the child, and not just having the child respond with what they think the GAL wants to hear. 

It is important that your child knows that it is perfectly acceptable for them to tell the GAL that they do not know the answer to a question.  A helpful tool in preparing your child for their first interview with the GAL is practicing responding to questions they do not know the answer to.  This can be done by practicing out loud, asking your child a question and allowing them to practice responding with, “I don’t know,” or “I do not understand the question.”  Both of those responses are acceptable, and the child needs to feel free to respond with those answers – practicing helps.

Children, as the centerpiece of the case, play a pivotal role in the GAL’s investigation.  GALs need accurate, meaningful information from their child clients, and your role as a parent can help pave the way to a productive investigation by the GAL.  It is important for parents to remember that unfamiliar adults can be scary to children.  The GAL’s role is to advocate for the child, and a parent taking the time to frame the GAL’s role and calm the child’s fears can make all the difference.

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