The quality of the service provided by GALs varies widely. There are statutory requirements relating to their qualifications and duties.
Citation: Virginia Code §§ 16.1-266.1; 9.1-153
The Judicial Council of Virginia, in conjunction with the Virginia State Bar and the Virginia Bar Association, shall adopt standards for attorneys appointed as GALs. The standards shall, as far as practicable, take into consideration the following criteria:
- License or permission to practice law in Virginia
- Current training in the roles, responsibilities, and duties of GAL representation
- Familiarity with the court system and general background in juvenile law
- Demonstrated proficiency in this area of the law
The Judicial Council shall maintain a list of attorneys who are qualified to serve as GALs based upon the standards and shall make the names available to the courts. If no attorney who is on the list is reasonably available, a judge in his or her discretion, may appoint any discreet and competent attorney who is admitted to practice law in Virginia.
The Department of Criminal Justice Services shall adopt regulations governing the qualifications of advocates who shall be deemed to be criminal justice employees. An advocate must be at least age 21, and the program director shall obtain a copy of the advocate's criminal history record and information from the central registry on child abuse and neglect to certify that no records are maintained on him or her.
An advocate shall have no associations that create a conflict of interest or the appearance of such a conflict with his or her duties as an advocate. No advocate shall be assigned to a case of a child whose family has a professional or personal relationship with the advocate.
No applicant shall be assigned as an advocate until successful completion of a program of training required by regulations. The department shall set standards for both basic and ongoing training.
Citation: Virginia Code § 9.1-153; Va. Sup. Ct. Rule 8:6
The advocate's duties shall include:
- Investigating the case to which he or she is assigned to provide independent factual information to the court
- Submitting to the court a written report of his or her investigation in compliance with the provisions of § 16.1-274
- Upon request of the court, making recommendations as to the child's welfare
- Monitoring the case to ensure compliance with the court's orders
- Assisting any appointed GAL to represent the child in providing effective representation of the child's needs and best interests
- Reporting a suspected abused or neglected child pursuant to § 63.2-1509
The advocate is not a party to the case to which he or she is assigned and shall not call witnesses or examine witnesses. The advocate shall not, with respect to the case to which he or she is assigned, provide legal counsel or advice to any person, appear as counsel in court or in proceedings that are part of the judicial process, or engage in the unauthorized practice of law. The advocate may testify if called as a witness.The GAL shall vigorously represent the child fully protecting the child's interest and welfare. The GAL shall advise the court of the wishes of the child in any case where the wishes of the child conflict with the opinion of the GAL as to what is in the child's interest and welfare.