Guardian Ad Litem
A Guardian Ad Litem is an attorney who is appointed by the court to represent the best interests of a child. The GAL is appointed by the court at the Shelter Care Hearing and will continue to represent the child until the child is returned to the parent(s); is adopted; has custody confirmed in a legal custodian or ages out of the child welfare system.
The mission of the office is to provide zealous legal representation and social service advocacy to the dependent youth of Bucks County. The attorneys are responsible for advocating a child’s best and legal interests in all Dependency Court proceedings. The office is also committed to making sure no child falls between the cracks of the various court systems.
The office is comprised of four full-time attorneys, two master’s level social workers and an office manager. Each year, the office handles approximately 2000 cases in Dependency Court. Cases are assigned to a specific lawyer and social worker at inception. The lawyer and social worker team the case until conclusion. The continuity of one lawyer and one social worker builds a strong bond of trust between the lawyer/social worker and client. Routine hearings handled include, but are not limited to, emergency placements, shelter care hearings, dependency hearings, permanency review hearings, status hearing, modification hearings and judicial reviews. The lawyers and social workers address placement concerns, medication, special education, trauma and treatment, truancy, and the specific issues of older youth. The lawyer and social worker conduct home visits with the child, interview witnesses, attend all meetings related to a child’s welfare and specific concerns and make a recommendation to the court as to the child’s best interest and legal interest.
In addition to representing all dependent children in Bucks County, the Office of the Guardian Ad Litem also receives appointments from Family Court and Criminal Court in limited circumstances where the court believes it is in a child’s best interest to have an independent lawyer to advocate for a child. Lastly, the Office of the Guardian Ad Litem also represent children in Special Juvenile Immigration Status cases.