What is a GAL?
A Guardian ad Litem (GAL) advocate is a trained community volunteer who is appointed, along with a Guardian ad Litem attorney, by a district court judge to investigate and determine the needs of abused and neglected children petitioned into the court system by the Department of Social Services. Their role is mandated by North Carolina General Statute 7B-601.
Throughout North Carolina, the Guardian ad Litem Program seeks to serve the best interests of thousands of children who find themselves the subjects of court cases by assigning them Guardian ad Litem volunteers. Our program exists in every county throughout the state, and with the help of more than 5,300 volunteers, we serve more than 18,000 children a year.
For more information about the program, view our fact sheet.
View Fact Sheet (PDF)
GAL Responsibilities, Qualifications, and Requirements
The GAL volunteer’s primary responsibilities include:
- Digging for details in the case
- Collaborating with other participants in the case
- Recommending what’s best for a child by writing court reports
- Empowering the child’s voice
- Staying vigilant by constantly monitoring the case
- Keeping all information confidential
The main qualification for becoming a GAL is to have a sincere concern for the well-being of children. There are no education or experience requirements.
GAL volunteer advocates commit to serving on a child’s case until permanence is achieved, and cases usually take at least a year to be resolved. In order to apply, you must complete an application, a screening interview, and a criminal record check. We also require at least 30 hours of training before a volunteer candidate is accepted into the program. After acceptance, GAL volunteers are sworn in by a judge and appointed to a case. Our volunteers are supervised by program staff, and is expected to attend continuing education training on advocacy issues during service to the local program.
For specific volunteer duties, view our volunteer job description.
View Job Description (PDF)
Meet a Guardian ad Litem
GAL Michele’s persistence resulted in a court-ordered home study of an appropriate family who could care for three siblings. A year later, the family adopted all three.
Meet - Xavier, David, and Maya
Xavier, David, and Maya, 8, 5, and 2, had been removed from their home and placed in foster care due to abuse and neglect. Their initial placement wasn’t ideal, but social services was unable to find a permanent home for them.
GAL Volunteer Michele Steps InMichele immediately started building a bond with each child, and began to advocate for a home that would accept and welcome Xavier, David, and Maya. Through the process of interviewing many of the children’s community connections as well as encountering plenty of dead ends, Michele finally located an appropriate family who knew the children and was willing to provide care. However, social services ignored her requests to look into the home, so Michele made her request to the Judge in court. Thanks to Michele’s advocacy, social services then conducted the home study. The home was approved, and after a year in the placement, Xavier, David, and Maya were adopted into the family!
GAL Sandra used her objectivity in advocating for three siblings whose permanent plans required two different placements, one involving reunification and one involving a family member placement.
Blake, 14, and his younger siblings had been removed from their home due to severe abuse from their father. Blake was placed with an adult cousin who was a school teacher, and thrived in that environment, attaining the honor roll and joining several school activities and clubs. However, when Blake’s mother started to make progress towards being a committed parent, Blake wanted to stay where he was.
GAL Volunteer Sandra Steps In
Sandra helped the teen share his feelings with the Judge and the court without hurting his mother’s feelings. Blake wrote a very convincing letter to the Judge about why he wished to remain with his cousin. The Judge read the letter privately in chambers with Sandra and Blake present, and saw fit to award guardianship to Blake’s adult cousin. Due to Sandra’s unwavering advocacy, Blake’s mother was very understanding of the situation. Later in the year, the mother was able to reunify with her two younger children, and they were able to go home.
Through much patience on the part of her GAL Rachel, a young girl who suffered severe abuse and lost her sister at the hands of her parents found a new beginning with an adoptive family.
Meet Allison & Annie
Allison and Annie, 4 and 2, were rushed to the hospital after they both had experienced severe physical abuse. Annie didn’t survive, and Allison arrived at the hospital undernourished and covered in dark bruises. Allison was immediately placed in foster care, and it was quickly discovered that she also had significant speech delays.
GAL Cathie created a positive ripple effect for future foster children when she supported the child she was advocating for after she claimed sexual abuse by her foster father.
Sarah had been in more placements than she was years old. When Sarah was faced with time in a youth development center, she disclosed that she was being sexually abused by her foster father. Everyone doubted her truthfulness, and assumed Sarah was just upset about the trouble she was in.
Cathie didn’t doubt Sarah. She advocated for law enforcement to become involved and for Sarah to have a medical exam conducted. She also advocated for supportive contact from Sarah’s former foster parents who had positively impacted her life.Ultimately, the sex abuse was substantiated and the foster father was prosecuted, which prevented more foster youth from experiencing the trauma that Sarah had at the hands of the foster father. Sarah was then able to start the healing process.
GAL Mark saw possibilities for a youth’s future as he ensured that her transition plan for “aging out” met her needs and best interests.
Zoe had been severely abused by her parents, and the abuse left her traumatized and unable to cope. Over the course of multiple placements, she had been hospitalized 3 times, spent 17 months in a psychiatric treatment facility, and was prescribed 20 different psychotropic medications within a two and half year period. At one point, she was taking six simultaneously. Eventually, Zoe was placed in an excellent out-of-state treatment center where her medications were dramatically reduced and she started to improve. However, Zoe was about to age out of foster care, and the mental health services provider planned to step her down and move her into a mental health group home.