A GAL Named Sue

“She is a nine year old little girl who is paraplegic and a cancer survivor. She is a very nice child.” These were the words of my supervisor introducing me to my first case as a volunteer advocate or Guardian ad Litem (GAL).

Everything my supervisor said was true. Bree was one of the loveliest little girls I had ever met. She was polite and friendly, with a sunny disposition and cooperative nature. I cared so very much about doing the best I could to help her find the right home.

Bree came from a family with a long history of people who knew how to ‘use’ the system. Her biological mother was a repeat drug offender who was often homeless. Bree had never met her biological father. Her grandmother was incarcerated, and her grandfather was deceased. There was no stability to work with here, and on a number of occasions, Mom would roll her eyes when I walked into the room. Bree was in foster care when I took the case and was eventually moved to another foster home because her care required great physical strength on the part of the caretaker.

During the four year duration of the case, the social worker changed eight times, and the attorney changed twice. I was the only constant. I became an expert in all things Bree. I attended her after school program, participated in Field Day, and met with school staff to form an IEP. I was present at all of her doctor appointments, including the Smilow Cancer Center checks and the Spina Bifida clinic. I was there when they fit her leg brace, the time she received her wheelchair, and during sessions in the pool to help her legs relax. I went with her to therapy sessions and had her camp papers filled out by her pediatrician. Bree was indeed a wonderful little girl.

I watched her as she struggled for belonging. She wanted desperately to please her mother, and tried everything to gain her approval. I hugged her once after her mom made her cry.

After three years in foster care, Bree’s mother had another baby. I could see the longing in Bree’s eyes at the thought of living with her “family”. It was risky–Mom was once again placed in housing and had just brought home her newborn. It was the position of this GAL to send Bree home. She needed to know what it was like to live with her mom and brother, for better or for worse. Bree was not in danger, but she was at risk for neglect. Bree had very serious needs that could not be ignored, but she was older now and could likely help herself more than ever. Against all other voices, the judge sided with this GAL and allowed Bree to go home for the first time in four years. We all held our breath.

That was three years ago. Bree has been able to stay home with her mother and brother. She has since graduated middle school and moved on to high school. My supervisor reported that Bree’s mom is now a leader at her housing project and has turned her life around. She sent a picture to me of Bree at her graduation. Tears filled my eyes as I read the back where Bree wrote, “Love you lots”.