The role of a GAL can be simplified into two main components: case investigation and monitoring.
New cases begin with a thorough, independent investigation by the GAL. This investigation involves talking to both family members and professionals with knowledge of the situation, as well as collecting and reviewing related documentation. Most importantly, the GAL meets the child and begins what is hoped to be a meaningful and positive relationship. From the gathered facts the GAL is charged with developing a set of recommendations for presentation to the Court. Although they vary with each case, recommendations commonly address custody, treatment needs of parents, services for children, visitation, and support.
Once the initial court order is issued the GAL's role changes from investigator to monitor. The GAL tracks compliance with treatment and reports progress to the court at the next hearing. In between court appearances the GAL spends time with the child, helping him or her cope with the situation and encouraging their success in their foster families, schools, and therapy. Often the GAL is the only constant in the child's life, as foster homes, schools, and caseworkers change frequently. It is often the GAL that ensures visitation between siblings.
The parties come back together to assess progress on previous court orders at regular judicial reviews. Many times the families have completed their treatment plans, and the case closes. By law children who can not return home must have a permanent plan established prior their to being in care for one year. Federal and state statutes define the options for permanent plans as 1) return home, 2) Termination of Parental Rights with Adoption, 3) guardianship, 4) relative placement, or 5) alternate planned permanent living arrangement. The permanent plan must be approved by the court as the best possible outcome for the child in question. The GAL remains involved until the child reaches permanence.