Bob Tweedell practices as a Guardian ad Litem in the Seventh and Twenty-First Judicial Districts.
Why did you choose to practice child welfare law?
It chose me, and I said OK. Although it can be very painful, it can also be very rewarding. I’d like to think that what I’m doing is actually making a difference.
What has been the most rewarding moment for you while working with children and families in the dependency and neglect system?
There is no one most rewarding moment. Our family treatment court is extremely rewarding work and we have excellent collaboration among all of the people and agencies involved. It is rewarding when the kids come up and give me a hug at family treatment court and chatter excitedly to me. It is rewarding when the court actually listens to my argument and input. It is rewarding to believe that people can change and to actually see them change before your eyes in some cases.
Describe a challenge you face doing this work and your strategies to overcome it.
Most of the families we work with are involved with several agencies: DHS, schools, criminal or juvenile justice system, mental health system, probation, agencies serving the developmentally disabled, social security, public housing, domestic violence shelters and treatment providers, health care system, etc. And yet there is no one person or agency that is coordinating the services of all these agencies. They work in silos and the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing. These systems are very hard to navigate for many families. I have tried hard to encourage as much collaboration and information sharing among the various agencies as possible.
Another challenge is lack of resources and service providers in a rural community. Be creative. Make do. Challenge yourself and others to try something different.
What advice do you have for an attorney who is new to child welfare law?
Be humble. Sure, you know a lot of stuff, but you don’t know everything. Know thyself, or as Dirty Harry Callahan put it in Magnum Force, “A man’s got to know his limitations.” Be aware of your strengths and weaknesses. Use your strengths; admit your weaknesses. Do the best you can and don’t take it home with you at the end of the day. Most of a good GAL’s work is done outside the courtroom. Don’t take yourself too seriously. You might be wrong sometimes, but it helps to be a positive and optimistic person.
Share a litigation strategy.
For me, one of the best litigation strategies is to ask for ideas and information from others. This includes mental health professionals, teachers and principals, grandparents and other relatives, foster parents, the kids themselves, the OCR, and many others. In many cases, the ideas and facts I get from these people help to shape my overall strategy for a particular case.
What drives you to continue in this line of work and do you have any advice for seasoned attorney?
Being a little bit crazy helps me to continue in this line of work. My advice for seasoned and, frankly, all GALs is to always keep in mind one of my favorite quotes from L.G. v. People, 890 P.2d 647, 655 (Colo. 1995). This quote is a guiding star for me:
An action in dependency and neglect is therefore different from the typical adversarial proceeding in district court. The proceeding is initiated by the State, through the department of social services, and although the parents are normally named as respondents in the petition, the purpose of the proceeding is not to adjudicate their rights, but to protect the safety of the child. Likewise, the juvenile court’s orders are meant solely to protect the child from harm. It is not the State’s objective, when acting on a petition for dependency and neglect, to punish the persons responsible for the conduct involving the child… Rather, the entire focus of the proceedings in a dependency and neglect action is to protect and shelter children who are susceptible to profound harm from the effects of abuse and neglect. In a dependency and neglect situation, therefore, the safety of the Colorado child, and not the custodial interest of the parent, is the paramount concern.