Last year I was introduced to a volunteer program that changed my life. The Guardian Ad Litem program is an amazing way for regular people to help children in need. It is a program made up of those who want to make a difference in the life of a child. I never thought I would have the time to volunteer, but thankfully I was able to make time. If you are interested in making a difference, then I highly recommend this wonderful volunteer opportunity.
CASA/ Guardian Ad Litem
As a mom, I am passionate about the well-being of children, even if they are not my own. When I was working as a paralegal, I was introduced to the Guardian Ad Litem program. I quickly signed up to volunteer and I loved every moment of it. That is not to say it was not without struggle, because some of the cases you see are truly heartbreaking. What makes it worth it is when the courts do their job and the children’s interests are protected. I truly believe in this program and I think that everyone who is able should look into being a volunteer.
What is a Guardian Ad Litem?
So many people have asked me this question. It seems the majority of people have not been exposed to the dependency system and therefore have no clue. A Guardian Ad Litem (GAL), also known as Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) on a national level, is an individual who volunteers their time to advocate for children in dependency situations. The GAL is the person in the court system whose sole purpose is to be an advocate for the best interest of the child.
What do they do?
The Guardian Ad Litem plays an important role in dependency cases. Once the Guardian Ad Litem program is assigned to a case, they will send one of their volunteers out to do a home visit. The GAL visits the child on a monthly basis and provides written reports to be entered into court records. During these visits the GAL will get to know the child, will observe the residence and the others living in the home. They will also communicate with parents and/or caregivers/foster parents as to their concerns. The GAL will also appear at court for all hearings. Also, the GAL will speak on the record as to their observations and recommendations.
Many guardians will also participate in activities with the children they are assigned to. They are able to (with permission) take them to and from sports or school functions. Some GAL volunteers also attend visitations with parents who may be incarcerated. During training, I remember being told our job is not to be a mentor, but to be an advocate, but many of the amazing individuals I met seem to do both and do it very well.
Why are they needed?
Now more than ever, there is a need for Guardian Ad Litem volunteers. According to a 2014 survey, there were over 400,000 children in the foster care system! The Guardian Ad Litem program is involved with these cases, as well as others where the child is not in foster care. There are a large number of cases where the child is in relative care or is still in parental care. These children need a voice, and that is what the GAL program is for. The volunteers speak up for these children when no one else will. They get attached to these kids, and they spend sleepless nights thinking about and praying for them. You can’t comprehend what some of these children have gone through, and you probably don’t want to, but they need a voice. In court, the Department of Children and Families, while they care about the child, they have a focus on the parents. Then there are the attorney’s for the parents, who obviously have their client’s interest to look out for. It is only the Guardian Ad Litem volunteers and attorneys who completely focus on the child, what they need, and how they can thrive.
How can I sign up?
First, you can go to the CASA website and look for a program in your area. All you have to do is enter your zip code and they will show you the programs in your area. You can then fill out a contact form and they will get back to you with the next steps.
The Guardian Ad Litem has a training course that all new volunteers must take. There is also an annual re certification. When I did my class, it was three days long. It lasted about 8 hours a day. The class will teach you everything that you need to know. Seasoned volunteers will present you with their stories and offer assistance to you. You will learn, probably more than you ever wanted to know about child abuse and neglect. The class is also great because you will meet other new volunteers who will be your support group.
Once you are certified, you will be given a case. You do not have to accept cases. You are given a choice as to the types of cases you are most comfortable with. For instance, male volunteers typically do not work cases involving teenage girls. When you have your first case, you will not be alone. You will be paired up with a mentor who will assist you. This mentor will be your lifeline and become your friend. I know the gentleman who I was paired with was such an amazing human being. He had a huge heart and truly loved what he did. I attended many of his hearings because I needed court observation time in order to complete my training. He also attended the initial visitation with me and my court hearings.
Well, What are you waiting for?
From the bottom of my heart, I believe this is an amazing organization. It is one that is near and dear to me. I plan on volunteering again once my son is a bit older because I loved it that much. The Guardian Ad Litem organization does so much good in the lives of children. As a volunteer, there is no better feeling than knowing you helped a child in need. These children need you. If you have the time and the desire, please look into volunteering with this wonderful organization. Please feel free to ask me any questions in the comments that you may have. It would be my pleasure to answer them for you. I can promise it will not be something that you will regret!