At the Jan. 2 county meeting Deborah Moore appeared with a presentation regarding the guardian ad litem Program in Franklin County.
A “guardian ad litem” (GAL) is a person the court appoints to investigate what solutions would be in the “best interests of a child.” The GAL could be asked to look at the child’s overall situation and make general recommendations about things like parental rights. But usually, the court will issue a limited-purpose appointment, which means they ask the GAL to look into just one or two issues like a parent’s record of substance abuse or current ability to make rational decisions about a child’s care, based on a current mental health care provider’s information.
“We have seen a surge in the number of children coming into the system for many reasons,” Moore said. She said GAL volunteers work with children who have experienced unimaginable traumas ranging from neglect because of parental substance abuse, domestic violence and poverty.
She said the courts try to place them with relatives but because the county has insufficient foster homes, children must frequently be removed from county disrupting their school and emotional well-being.
She said the GAL program is seeking volunteers for Franklin County youngsters. She said there are six GAL volunteers in the county but there are normally 15 to 20 children in need of an advocate and 12 to 15 GAL volunteers are needed to meet the current demand. Moore said there are currently 315 GAL volunteers to serve more than 520 children in the Second Circuit Court district, which includes Franklin County.
She said Franklin County is so understaffed the GAL program frequently has to pull volunteers from Wakulla or Leon County to serve Franklin County youngsters.
Moore said the sheriff’s department has been very helpful and showed support for the program. She hopes to form partnerships with other local organizations.
Those interested in volunteering or receiving more information can call (866) 341-1425 or can visit www.guardianadlitem.org