Guardian ad Litem seeks 'another set of eyes'

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They are looking for someone who loves kids, and wants to help  one of them.

 Theresa Roberts, director of recruiting and training for the Guardian ad Litem program for the 14th Judicial Circuit, which includes Gulf County, said there are 10 children in the county who do not have a volunteer on their case.

“Because of the hurricane, COVID-19 and personal reasons, 90 percent of our volunteers have left,” she said. “There is only one certified, active volunteer in Gulf County.  Volunteers are desperately needed.”

The Florida Guardian ad Litem program is a network of people, from all walks of life, who stand up for the best interests of children who have been removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect.

Appointed by judges, the volunteer Guardian ad Litem speaks for the child’s needs in the courtroom and the community, to ensure he or she is safe, protected and provided with a stable home.

Roberts said studies have shown children with a volunteer move fewer times within foster care, spend less time in out-of-home care, are more likely to be adopted and receive more services to assist with their healing process.

The average case lasts approximately 12 months and volunteers spend two to four hours per month on a case.  Children, who range in age from newborn to age 17, must be seen every 30 days.

Prospective volunteers, who must be over age 21, must fill out an application, go through training and pass a background check. Roberts said misdemeanor and traffic infractions are rarely disqualifiers, although a volunteer cannot be a convicted felon, have a domestic violence record or be involved in an active dependency case.  There is no cost for training or the background checks.  

Attendance at court hearings is encouraged and usually a significant amount of advance notice is provided.  Locally, court is held in the Gulf County courthouse, and there is staff attorney Amy Thome  and case managers who work with the Guardian ad Litems on a case.

Training consists of 13 chapters of online training, which usually takes no more than a couple weeks. “And if they are not comfortable with that, we can make other arrangements,” she said. “There’s a place in there if you’re interested in volunteering."

She said in some cases, the Guardian ad Litem will go beyond their duties, and get into the transportation program and take these kids other places.

“You’re getting to know this child,” she said. “A lot (of these restrictions) have loosened up over the years. We have retired folks, we have stay-at-home moms, professionals. We met a lady who speaks Spanish fluently, and one volunteer who does sign language.

“You can help them apply to college, help them apply to military service,” Roberts said. “We’re a resource for services to help these kids get resources they need.

“By law  the state has mandated that every child that been removed from a home must have a Guardian ad Litem on their case, that’s how important it is,” she said. “We’re just another set of eyes to help these kids.”

For more information, call Roberts at 850-747-5180 or visit www.guardianadlitem.org.

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