Understanding Court

One of the breakout sessions at the recent Foster Learning, Building Bridges Conference was “Understanding Court”.  This session included a panel of legal professionals who shared their experiences representing foster care cases in court.

Navigating court can be intimidating and confusing even for experienced foster parents. Just the terminology alone and acronyms which are used in a courtroom or court reports can make some foster parents feel like they are learning a new language!  Having said that, here are a few acronyms of titles used in a courtroom which are helpful to understand:

GAL– Guardian ad Litem- Children in foster care have their own attorney assigned to look after their best interests and make recommendations to the judge in court;  These attorneys are known as Guardian ad Litems or GALs for short.

CASA- Court Appointed Special Advocates- the role of a CASA is similar to that of a GAL because they gather information about the child(ren) and advocate for their best interest in court.  However, unlike a GAL who is a trained and paid professional, CASAs are volunteers.

AAG– Assistant Attorney General-  Just as children in the foster care system have their own attorney appointed to them, there is an attorney appointed by the state to represent DCFS in juvenile court cases.  The AAG works very closely with the child’s caseworker in gathering information and presenting it to the court.

Public Defender- A public defender is an attorney who is appointed by the state to represent a foster child’s birth family in a court of law.  Birth families aren’t necessarily required to use a public defender; however, if they cannot pay for an attorney the court will arrange for them to be represented by a state-employed attorney.

Now, on to the panel who shared their wisdom with us at the Conference:


Seated,  L-R: GAL Cristie Roach, AAG David Tibbs, Former public defender David R. Boyer, JD, and Associate Presiding Judge Julie V. Lind.   Far Right: Moderator, Gabriella Archuletta, JD.  (To see the panel member’s credentials and brief bios, see bottom of the page)

The panel’s moderator, Gabriella Archuleta, opened up the session by asking each of the panel members the question “What are the top two things that you want foster parents to know?”

Some highlights to their answers were as follows:

Judge Lind:   “You have the right and opportunity to participate in the court process.                                   You are the eyes and the ears of the home.”

This was very encouraging to hear coming from the one individual vested with the power to make the final decision in a child’s case.  Judge Lind’s admonition to participate in the court process [and to provide information about the children in our care] was both encouraging and empowering to foster parents who many times feel they do not have any say in their foster children’s cases.

 “We are working on the same goal which is always the best interest of the child.”  Judge Lind asserted.

Public Defender Boyer: “My clients love their children or they wouldn’t be there.”  Unfortunately, love does not always equate with safety and the two most common problems Boyer’s clients have faced are drug abuse and domestic violence.

Boyer pointed out that many times birth parents are afraid of foster parents taking their kids.  He also noted that he’s seen foster  parents play a very positive role in his client’s lives which he tied in very nicely with the theme of the conference and the Keynote Speaker’s address.  In fact, Boyer stated that probably the most difficult cases have been resolved because of the relationship between foster parents and birth parents.

One of Boyer’s challenges in his role as a former public defender is representing what is in the best interest of the parent, but not necessarily the best interest of the child.

AAG David Tibbs candidly acknowledged that “foster parents need to understand that they’ll be challenged in  may they never have before.”   He also described foster parents as “the unsung heroes of the system because so much is expected of them but so little is returned.”  Foster parents, he noted, are on the front line and can help fill in all the blanks.

One bit of advice Tibbs gave foster parents is to “never assume everyone knows what you know.”  He stressed the importance of passing on information about a child’s case and progress not only to the child’s Guardian ad litum but to the AAG assigned to the case as well.  Good communication is an essential skill for foster parents to have in order to advocate for the children in their care!

GAL Cristie Roach shared this poignant thought with foster parents: “Joseph was Jesus’s foster father and he knew that Jesus would be reunited with his father.”

The “Understanding Court” breakout session was a good opportunity for foster parents to hear the perspectives of the legal professionals who represent the best interest of the child, the best interest of the parent, and the best interest of the State through DCFS’s recommendations to the judge.

If you would like to learn more about the court process including what each court hearing is for {The differences between an Adjucation Hearing, a Review Hearing, a Permanency Hearing, etc} and required state and federal timelines for permanency and hearings,  these topics will be explored at next year’s Conference!

Understanding Court Panel Members:

Gabriella Archuleta, JD, MMP- Gabriella Archuletta is the Court Improvement Program (CIP) Coordinator for the Administrative Office of the Courts Juvenile team.  Her work focuses on improving education outcomes for youth in foster care, compliance with the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), and youth attendance at court hearings.  Gabriella oversees the planning and coordination of statewide child welfare conferences and trainings for juvenile court judges, child welfare attorneys, social workers, tribal representatives, and community partners.  She serves as the Vice Chair of the Utah Coordinating Council for Youth in Custody (UCCYIC).  She graduated with a Bachelor of Speech Communication and Spanish from the University of Utah as a first-generation college student.  In 2011, Gabriella received a joint Juris Doctor an Master of Public Policy from the University of Utah.

David R. Boyer, JD- David R. Boyer is the managing attorney of Alpine Ridge Law Office, LLC.  Prior to founding Alpine Ridge Law Office, Mr. Boyer worked as a Parental Defense Attorney in Provo’s Fourth District Juvenile Court.  Mr. Boyer served on the National Drug Court Professionals training and implementation team and was instrumental in the National Training and Formation of State Family Drug Court Teams.  In 2012, for his dedication to representing indigent parents, Mr. Boyer was voted Parental Defense Attorney of the Year by the Utah Parental Defense Alliance.  In 2013, Mr. Boyer was appointed to the Utah Parental Defense Alliance board of directors and currently represents Utah’s 5th and 6th Judicial Districts.

Judge Julie V. Lund- Judge Julie V. Lund was appointed to the Third District Juvenile Court in November 2010 by Governor Gary R. Herbert.  Judge Lund graduated in 1981 from the University of Colorado-Boulder with a B.A. in Political Science and received a law degree from the University of Utah College of Law in 1986.  She was employed in a civil litigation practice until 1995, when she joined the Child Protection Division of the Utah Attorney General’s office.  Judge Lund was named the Attorney of the Year in 2003.  She served as division chief for three years prior to her appointment to the bench.  Judge Lund is a past president of the Board of Trustees for the S.J. Quinney Colege of Law and a member of the executive committee of the Salt Lake County Bar Association.  She presently serves as Associate Presiding Judge and as a member of the Utah Sentencing Commission.

Cristie Roach- Cristie Roach has served as a Guardian ad Litem for over 9 years.  She is currently the Managing Attorney of the 4th District Juvenile Court.

David Tibbs, AAG- David Tibbs is a county lawyer who has been with the Utah Attorney General’s Office for thirty years, the last twenty with the Child Protection Division in Manti, Utah


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