SB 930 - Under this act, guardians ad litem (GALs) appointed in a case involving an abused or neglected child shall be required to establish a relationship with the child and meet face-to-face in a private setting to observe the child and ascertain the child's wishes and needs. Such initial interview shall take place prior to any initial court appearance and the GAL shall continue to maintain contact with the child for the duration of the appointment. Additionally, the GAL shall attend, as appropriate and necessary, any and all family support team meetings involving the child.
Any person appointed to perform GAL duties shall first have completed at least eight hours of specialized training and, for each year thereafter, at least three hours of specialized training. The training shall include, but not be limited to, the following: (1) dynamics of child abuse and neglect; (2) factors to consider in determining the best interests of the child; (3) interrelationships between the family, the legal system, and the child welfare system; (4) federal, state, and local legislation and case law affecting children; (5) cultural and ethnic diversity and gender-specific issues; (6) family and domestic violence issues; (7) available community resources and services; (8) child development; and (9) GAL standards.
This act creates an independent "Statewide Guardian Ad Litem Office" within the Office of State Courts Administrator, the head of which shall be an executive director appointed by the Governor from a list of applicants submitted by a "Guardian Ad Litem Qualifications Committee" as specified in the act. The Statewide Guardian Ad Litem Office shall have oversight responsibilities for and provide technical assistance to all appointed GALs, including: (1) identifying resources required to implement methods of collecting, reporting, and tracking reliable and consistent case data; (2) reviewing Missouri's GAL program and other states' programs; (3) developing statewide performance measures and standards; (4) developing, through a curriculum committee, a GAL training program; (5) reviewing GAL funding; (6) developing and distributing an informational website and an age-appropriate informational pamphlet to interested parties in a case, including a child who is the subject of the case, in which a GAL has been appointed regarding the role of the GAL, the duties of a GAL, and the GAL complaint and investigation process; and (7) determining the feasibility or desirability of new concepts of organization, administration, financing, or service delivery to better serve the need and interests of dependent children. The office shall submit to the Governor, the General Assembly, and the Chief Justice of the Missouri Supreme Court an annual report detailing the progress of the office and recommendations for GAL service improvements in Missouri.
This act also directs the Missouri Supreme Court to establish by rule the "Guardian Ad Litem Review Board", an independent unit within the Court. The review board shall consist of twelve individuals, six of whom shall be attorneys and six of whom shall be public members, to sit in panels of no more than three members. The review board shall have the responsibility to investigate allegations of misconduct against GALs and the Court shall promulgate rules regarding a complaint, investigation, and sanction process. Review board hearings and meetings shall be public unless necessary to protect the interests of specified persons.
Conduct meriting sanction by a review board panel shall include, but not be limited to: (1) violations or attempted violations of GAL standards; (2) violations or attempted violations of statutory duties of a GAL; (3) engaging in conduct that violates the rules of conduct for GALs in another jurisdiction; (4) committing any criminal or unlawful act that reflects adversely on the GAL's honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a GAL; (5) engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation; (6) having allegations of abuse or neglect against him or her substantiated by the Department of Social Services; (7) manifesting, in the performance of official GAL duties, a bias or prejudice based on race, color, sex, religion, national origin, disability, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, or socioeconomic status; and (8) willfully violating an order imposing sanctions under this act.
Sanctions imposed by a review board panel shall including, but not be limited to, a reprimand, additional GAL training according to a correction plan, and temporary or permanent disqualification as a GAL. In no case shall any sanction from the review board consist of any action against the GAL's professional license. In such cases meriting more substantial sanctions, the review board may recommend further investigation by the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel.
Finally, the review board shall make information concerning the complaint, review, and sanction process, as well as board membership and GAL duties, available to the public through a website and a physical pamphlet to be distributed to interested parties.