A voice for the kids : Guardian ad Litem program seeks volunteers

 
By Maxime Quemener
in The Crestview News Bulletin

 

Have you ever heard of the Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) program ? This is a statewide network of volunteer community advocates partnering to assist children involved in court processing. They work to defend the best interests of the children who have been abused, neglected or abandoned.

In north Okaloosa County, the program is cruelly lacking volunteers. The county is a part of the First Judicial Circuit, where the current total number of children in dependency is 8,593. There are only 323 volunteer guardians in this circuit. The GAL office in Crestview, however, only has 13.

We need voices to speak for the children”, said Carita Smith, volunteer recruiter of the program. “In north Okaloosa County, we are in need of 75 volunteers. If we can’t find them, we won’t be able to visit the kids as often as we do now. And that’s a shame because interaction makes a big difference in the way these kids grow up”.

“You receive much more than what you give,” said Joy Cromer who’s been a guardian for one year and has already helped 12 kids.

She has great memories with every child she spoke for. But she particularly remembers this one little girl. She had never had never had a bedroom or toys. When the court process was over, Joy visited the kid. She will never forget what happened when she walked in : “Her eyes just lit up and she showed me her room”.

Once a court appoints the GAL program to a case, the adviser has to come and visit the kids at least once a month to investigate the children’s living condition and find out what is in their best interest.

But, in most cases, the guardians are so much dedicated to the cause that they visit their kids once a week”, said Smith.

However the program has to be very careful whom they recruit.

The volunteer guardian has to submit oral and written reports to the court and provide recommendations regarding placement, visitation and services. For that purpose, they would access reviews from any number of service providers necessary.

The applicants are not required to have a law degree to become a guardian. However, because of these big responsibilities, the program has to be sure they can rely on their volunteers. Every applicant would have to complete a screening interview, provide two positive character references and successfully complete a training of at least 30 hours. On top of that, the GAL program conducts a performance review at east once every 12 months with each active volunteer.

We have to be sure they are sincere about their willing to help”, Smith explained. “The only conditions to become a volunteer is to be 21, to have no felony record and, the most important, to want to see children grow in a safe, nurturing atmosphere”.

If you love children, you will fit right in !”

For more information about becoming a Guardian Ad Litem volunteer children’s advocate, you may contact Carita Smith at the Crestview program office, 101 East James Lee Blvd., Room 209, 689-5060.

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