A court-appointed special advocate is a volunteer who wishes to help abused or neglected children in his or her community. They seek to establish relationships to best understand the child's circumstances in order to help help family court judges to determine if the child should remain in the home with the family or if he should be placed in adoption or foster care systems. They are responsible for submitting formal documents to family court with their recommendations after reviewing all relevant material and interviewing the people involved in the case. They are specially trained to put the child's well-being and safety first when making a recommendation to a judge.
By assigning a special advocate to each case, family courts across the United States can gather much of the necessary information to make a good decision about a child's fate. Advocates speak with families, attorneys, and social workers when researching a case. The advocate may be called by the judge to answer questions about the investigation and should be fully prepared to make statements at each court date.
The investigation for each child must be thorough and unbiased. Special advocates should try to maintain emotional distance from the case and act professionally with all parties. The special advocate must be willing to work with children of all ages from all backgrounds. An advocate should always maintain objectivity and keep the child's welfare as his focus.
The special advocate may act as the child's voice during court proceedings and is expected to be present at most of the hearings for that child's placement. A trusting working relationship is developed between the child and the advocate. Most advocates work with only one or two children at a time so that they can delve deeply into the family's history. The goal of this process is to ensure that the child has a safe, nurturing home throughout his childhood.
As the voice of the child, a special advocate should solely focus on the child's best interest. This may or may not be the same as the child's preferences. While the special advocate should take the child's desires into account, safety and permanency are the most important factors in the official reports.
Family court cases usually take at least a year to resolve and some continue on much longer. Even after initial replacement, the special advocate with review the child's living situation on a regular basis. Special advocates will usually maintain a child in their caseload until a permanent and satisfactory resolution has been reached.
In most jurisdictions, there are relatively few requirements for becoming a special advocate. Most courts request that advocates be at least 21-years-old and be free of convictions involving abuse and neglect. Most importantly, special advocates should have a desire to help children in negative situations grow and thrive.
Special advocates are asked to commit time to training for their duties and carrying out appointed tasks. Since the special advocate position is usually filled by volunteers, training is usually free of charge to qualified volunteers. The time commitment is usually between eight and 20 hours per month for each case after training.