Bioethics Blogs

NIH Family Members Giving Back: Rebecca Shlafer

Rebecca Shlafer/Credit: Brady Willette

When Rebecca Shlafer clicks on her office lights each morning at the University of Minnesota Medical Center, Minneapolis, she usually has a good idea of what to expect from the day ahead as lead of a nine-person research team that studies the effects of incarceration on children and families. It’s her volunteer work that can be unpredictable.

For the past eight years, this developmental child psychologist has donated her free time to serve as a guardian ad litem for abused or neglected children who’ve been removed from their homes and placed under protective supervision of Minnesota’s Fourth Judicial District. In that volunteer capacity, Shlafer advocates in court for the well-being of the child, but doesn’t foster the youngster or provide any day-to-day care.

Shlafer, who recently completed a training grant with NIH’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, first got into volunteering as a graduate student, when she signed up to deliver warm meals to the hungry throughout the Twin Cities area. While completing her Ph.D., she heard about the Hennepin County Guardian ad Litem Program and thought it would be a great fit to use her degree as a community volunteer. Shlafer completed a mandatory 10-week training course, then took on her first case in 2009.

Since then, she’s advocated on behalf of more than 20 abused or neglected kids and estimates she’s donated a total of 750 hours—and counting. As a guardian ad litem, Shlafer thinks holistically about each child, “putting on my Mom hat” to assess his or her needs, be it physical, psychological, or emotional.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.