“We have to stand up and say, ‘We will take the child’s side.’ That’s what we’re doing.”

Published 10:00 pm Friday, May 16, 2014

That’s Jurgen Forster, one of Polk County’s Guardian ad Litem, who are assigned by the court to represent minor children’s (those under 18) interests, and to advise the court, in cases ranging from parental death to abuse and violence. Guardian ad Litem are officers of the court, and do not represent parties in any suit.
_DSC6773-(1)Forster has been a volunteer in this capacity for three years. GAL individuals do not receive pay but other rewards abound. Forster noted that cases usually involve neglect, abuse, children becoming drawn in by gang behavior, and other factors that can negatively influence children.
Gangs in Polk County? Forster note that, while this area lacks the infrastructure to support what we might call gangs, the legal definition of a gang is simply three or more people who get together for criminal activity. Local children sometimes fall into their clutches.
Guardian ad Litem are lay individuals, Forster noted. “We write a report. We write it in plain English, not ‘lawyer English.’ When I make a report, I write it straightforward. Some people don’t like it.”
GAL training occurs several times annually. Recent training dealt with gangs, and how to prevent young people from becoming involved with them. Forster noted that neglected children often have a strong need to belong to some group. Gangs recruit new members by offering something appealing. “Many times,” said Forster, “we lose ourselves in the definition of gangs, and lose children to a bad influence. It’s about the children. We want to prevent them from falling into the wrong hands.”
Forster and his GAL peers work in conjunction with the Polk County Dept. of Social Services, “which,” emphasizes Forster, “is an excellent, outstanding department. It’s unbelievable how dedicated those people from DSS are.” Forster said he usually handles about three or four cases at a time. He chooses the more difficult cases, such as those involving drugs, violence or abuse. Each case takes about six months to a year to resolve. One case took only about five months; another has gone two years.
Forster said each case begins with the court giving custody of the child to DSS. DSS personnel investigate. If the case needs to go further, DSS personnel petition the court for custody of the child, and the case moves forward. Then, the court appoints a Guardian ad Litem. A GAL is not the child’s legal guardian.
In such cases, each party obtains legal representation. “I investigate the circumstances of the case, get to the facts, and make a report to the judge.” Investigations involve contacting all parties, including neighbors, teachers and others, to insure corroboration through the process.
One might think that such work would expose Forster to constant physical threat or threats. That’s not the case, he said. He did mention a case where his investigation put him in contact with “a meth-head,” who threatened to kill him if he (Forster) showed up again. “Why not now?” countered Forster. The individual did nothing. “We do have protection under the law,” Forster noted.
One case that brings a warm glow to Forster involved a girl who was abused, but later was able to go to her prom. “It just makes me feel so good,” Forster beamed. “I cannot say enough good things about the DSS in Polk County. The teamwork between GAL and DSS in Polk County is outstanding. The dedication (of DSS) for the welfare of the children is outstanding.
Forster emphasized that DSS employees in Polk County are “not bureaucrats. They have the interest of the children in mind. They are ‘gem-up,’” he said, a ringing endorsement. Polk and Transylvania counties, Forster noted, comprise North Carolina’s 29-B Court District. Lee Bradley is the Guardian ad Litem supervisor in this district.
Obviously GAL and DSS individuals don’t always agree on how best to proceed, “but we always come up with the best solution,” noted Forster. He said he tells people that they need to investigate the circumstances for the good of the child. Guardian ad Litem do not work for DSS.
“Those are my children,” he added. I take it seriously. “I look at being in their corner without any question. I’m so passionate about it,” Forster continued. The children in our society are our future. That’s why we have to stand up for them.”
Forster, who became a U.S. citizen in 1993, and who served for several years as a volunteer law enforcement officer, said he “wanted to do something again for our society. I have so much satisfaction, to stand up for children who cannot stand up for themselves.”

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