A report of child abuse is made every 10 seconds, and almost five children die every day as a result of child abuse in the U.S.
The N.C. Guardian ad Litem program seeks to be a voice for those suffering from this hidden epidemic of abuse and neglect.
“The volunteers in this program do an incredible job,” said Linda Russell, N.C. Guardian ad Litem Program Supervisor. “What they bring to the courtroom is a practical, common sense approach that judges really appreciate.”
A Guardian ad Litem is a trained community volunteer who is appointed by a district court judge to investigate and determine the needs of abused and neglected children when a petition is filed in the court system by the Department of Social Services.
“We need to advocate for children to be in safe, permanent homes,” said Russell. “I would invite anyone who is interested in finding out more about volunteer opportunities to contact the Judicial Center, or call (910) 419-7600.”
With the help of dedicated volunteers, the Guardian ad Litem program is able to represent thousands of children in the court system. Program volunteers offer a unique perspective and their opinions are valued greatly by court judges, when the welfare of the minors they represent is at stake.
“I’ve been volunteering with the Program for about seven years,” said Tammie Griffin, of Hamlet. “The judges in our area really listen and care, and I can definitely see the positive impact we have through the Organization. It’s so gratifying to be able to stand up for children, and give them a voice.”
There are currently about 25 GAL volunteers in Richmond County, but the need for volunteers has increased because of the continued rise of child abuse and neglect hearings in the State.
“Linda Russell is so inspiring,” said Griffin. “Her office does such a great job, and I would really encourage anyone who is interested in volunteering to contact the N.C. Guardian ad Litem office, in Rockingham. It is a wonderful experience.”
Victoria Hudson, of Rockingham, has been volunteering with the Organization for about four years. She is employed full time, and schedules her meetings with families for evenings and weekends.
“I have some flexibility during my lunch hours, and I only have to appear in court about once every couple of months. So doing this really isn’t a strain on my schedule, even though I work full time,” said Hudson.
“It’s a little-known organization in our community,” she said. “It is a super opportunity for people who have a heart for children and families. It’s extremely rewarding.”
A GAL volunteer must successfully complete certification training and periodic in-service training, and spend an average of 10 hours per month working on the case. As with any average, some cases will involve more time, and some less time.
Visit the child and keep him or her informed of court proceedings
Ensure that the child’s wishes are known to the court
Interview parents or caretakers
Interview the social workers and review records related to the family
Gather and assess independent information
Prepare written reports for court hearings
Attend and participate in court hearings and other related meetings
Keep all information confidential
Monitor service plans and court orders
Staff writer Kelli Easterling can be reached at (910) 997-3111 ext. 18, or by email email@example.com