Nebraska was recently awarded a $30,000.00 grant through the State Justice Institute to enhance educational opportunities for lawyers who serve as guardians in juvenile abuse/neglect cases. The goal is to improve court-related outcomes for children who have been abused or neglected.
According to Judicial Branch Education Director Carole McMahon-Boies, Nebraska has a unique approach to attorneys appointed as guardians ad litem. “Our statutory scheme is not typical of other jurisdictions. We combine the roles of the guardian ad litem acting as parent of the juvenile with the responsibility to act as legal counsel for the juvenile,” said McMahon-Boies.
In Nebraska, guardians ad litem are expected to investigate the circumstances affecting the welfare of the ward, make recommendations, and advocate to the court regarding best interests -- all while functioning as the attorney for the child. The guardian ad litem is expected to attend school meetings regarding education progress, meet regularly with the child in the home placement, advocate for placement change and, if necessary, prosecute a petition for termination of parental rights.
There has been an increased interest in the handling of abused and neglected children in Nebraska’s court system over the past several years which prompted the organization of the Supreme Court’s Commission on Children and the subsequent “Through the Eyes of the Child Initiative.”
By Supreme Court rule, guardians ad litem are required to take an initial six-hour course offered through the State Court Administrator’s office followed annually by three hours of continuing education. Most recently, education under the rule has been offered through the Nebraska Court Improvement Project which, at this time, has limited funds.
Judicial Branch Education requested grant monies in order to build further educational opportunities, improve the quality of the education, and make education available in a college-based distance learning format for immediate access statewide. Initial and follow-up education for lawyers is slated for development.
McMahon-Boies commented, “We believe that quality education offered in the format used by college distance learning courses will much better prepare a new Guardian ad Litem for the expectations of the court and child welfare system. Our courses will require the taking of tests, completing exercises and replicating hands-on experiences of handling a juvenile court case.”
Judicial Branch Education is an arm of the Administrative Office of the Courts providing education and a variety of distance learning courses for judges and court staff statewide.