Ruth practices in the El Paso County Office of the Guardian ad Litem in Colorado Springs.
Why did you choose to practice child welfare law?
I was a divorce attorney and as part of my practice I was a private GAL. I really enjoyed having the GAL role and having my focus be the best interests of the child. When the OGAL opened up, I jumped at the chance to be a GAL full-time. I have no regrets about that decision.
What has been the most rewarding moment for you while working with children and families in the dependency and neglect system?
I have enjoyed meeting with all of the children and seeing them through to permanency, whether it was return home, permanent placement with a relative, adoption by a non-relative or emancipation.
Describe a challenge you face doing this work and your strategies to overcome it.
I would say one of the biggest challenges is when you know what is best for a child, but the system doesn’t have the appropriate services, whether it is therapeutic foster homes, foster homes for teen mothers and their babies, or appropriate therapy covered by Medicaid or DHS. I struggle with finding appropriate placements and therapies in some cases, and I try to find options in the community.
What advice do you have for an attorney who is new to child welfare law?
If you’re not in an office, find a mentor who has been doing this work for a while and consult with that person regularly.
What drives you to continue in this line of work and do you have any advice for a seasoned attorney?
I continue to be inspired by my clients and I continue to enjoy working with youth. As far as advice for the seasoned attorney doing this work, self-care is very important so that you don’t get burnt out.
I had a case where the developmentally delayed parents were not getting the services recommended by their initial assessments – this included IQ testing, neuro-cognitive evaluations, medical evaluations, and so on. The baby was placed in foster care since being discharged from the hospital and the case was well into the 6th month without IQ and neuro-cognitive testing.
We needed to determine if the parents qualified for The Resource Exchange and host homes, but without the correct assessments the case was stalled. This was continually brought up at staffings and eventually DHS had a triage meeting to discuss the services. When I brought this up to the Judge in month 7, she ordered the testing and evaluations and set the case for a lack of reasonable efforts hearing. Both parents had respondent counsel and their own GALs, but they did not prosecute the lack of reasonable efforts hearing.
I requested a court ordered deadline for the DHS discovery documents, and subpoenaed the records from the agency responsible for setting up services. This agency refused to obey the subpoena, and I had to get a specific court order for the records. With the DHS and agency records I was able to come up with a timeline for services recommended, when referrals went out, and when the providers actually contacted the parents to set up the services. This time line was my first exhibit at trial.
In the subpoenaed records I found a report from the triage meeting which recommended even further delay of services. Along with the other documents I received from DHS and the agency, I was able to show the delay in services came from DHS. The county disagreed with this position, and objected strongly to all my questioning of their witnesses. The Respondent Counsel and GALs for the Respondents agreed with the lack of reasonable efforts and at the hearing cross-examined my witnesses and argued in support of the finding.
The Court found a lack of reasonable efforts which extended the EPP guidelines. We are now set for a termination hearing on my motion and I feel confident that the parents were given an appropriate treatment plan with the recommended evaluations and offered services.