Going the Extra Mile as a GAL
Recently I took on a new GAL case involving four children born to a young mother “Betsy” who is struggling with addiction. As a Guardian ad Litem, we are trained to be the “eyes on the child” and therefore our focus is meant to be directed towards the children. From the moment I laid eyes on this family, I knew that if I really wanted to help these kids, I needed to help their mom. This would be no easy task because she was lost to the streets and never accessible. She would go missing for weeks at a time and hadn’t appeared for her last two court dates.
Fortunately, the children have two loving grandparents who have taken on the task of caring and providing for them. In my conversations with the grandmother, she mentioned to me that the older children (ages 5 and 7) worry incessantly about their mother, often asking for her and if grandmother knows her whereabouts. She said they sometimes wake in the middle of the night overtaken with fear for their mom, something I could visibly discern in my interactions with them. This kind of anxiety and heaviness is something no child that age should have ever have to feel.
The day finally came when the case manager contacted me saying that the mom wanted to speak to me. I was surprised to hear this since she and I had had very little interaction but once she was on the phone with me, her emotion could not be contained. She began to express some very dark and worrisome feelings. I tried my best to reassure her that everything would be ok if she would allow me to help her and get her into a treatment program. She was reluctant, combative and downright nasty. She was in a drug-induced rage and was not thinking straight however, in the midst of it all, she had the clarity to let me know exactly where she was right down to the street address and room number of the seedy motel she was squatting at. Once she gave me that information, I knew she truly was looking for help.
I arrived early the next morning and knocked on the motel room door. A young man emerged looking disheveled. This man was Betsy’s boyfriend and the father of her youngest child. He too was battling with addiction and absent from his children’s lives. He looked concerned and frightened when I asked for Betsy but fetched her nonetheless. After a couple of minutes, Betsy emerged, looking ragged and was nothing but skin and bones. She was not happy to see me, but I was not going to let this moment go by. She was coming with me and I wasn’t taking no for an answer.
It was a very long car ride to where she was going, and she spent most of it navigating back and forth between tears of sadness and fits of rage yet often mentioned wanting to see her kids. I assured her I would do anything I could to help her and that I would even bring her kids to her as soon as she would be permitted to see them. I knew she was afraid of what she was facing but I also knew that she understood she had run out of options and that this was her last chance. In the hours we spent at the rehab facility while they assessed and admitted her, I saw her demeanor change and slowly she surrendered to what was to come as well as the possibility of turning her life around.
It has been one month since that day and already when I speak to her, she sounds like a different person. On Mother’s Day, I fulfilled my promise to bring her children to her and she was able to spend a few hours with them as well as her parents. Since then she has progressed tremendously and is now allowed to leave the facility on certain days to have visits with the children. She has put on weight and there is a renewed spark in her eye. She is completing her services, setting goals to finish high school and go on to get her nursing degree. Grandma tells me the kids no longer wake up asking about her and are clearly relieved knowing their mother is safe and being taken care of.
I think about how this scenario could have played itself out had she not reached out to me that day. What if circumstances were different and this case had never come to dependency. It is certainly never a good thing when this happens but fortunately for Betsy, there is a Guardian ad Litem on this case who feels passionately that children can best be helped by healing the entire family and is willing to go the extra mile to do just that.