The guardian ad litem system is making it easier to volunteer in Franklin County.
A guardian ad litem (GAL), an advocate appointed by the court to represent the interests of an underage person, serve as the voice of the child and may represent the child in court. GALs may assist where a child is removed from a hostile environment, usually by the Florida Department of Children and Families, and in those cases may assist in the protection of the minor child.
GALs are also appointed in cases where there has been an allegation of child abuse, neglect or juvenile delinquency. In these situations, the GAL represents the best interests of the minor child, which can differ from the position of the state or government agency as well as the interest of the parent or guardian. A guardian ad litem is an officer of the court and in Florida, is usually a volunteer.
At the Jan. 9 luncheon of the Apalachicola Bay Chamber of Commerce, Karen Blumenthal, spokesperson for the GAL program, urged Franklin County residents to consider representing a child.
She said volunteers are desperately needed. She said guardians ad litem require 30 hours of training in Florida.
Blumenthal said GAL will hold a training session in the county this spring to make it easier for county residents to participate. Once trained, advocating for a child requires about 10 hours a month, much of it spent doing research or speaking with people outside of the courtroom.
Except for court dates, the schedule for GAL volunteers is flexible. Court dates take place in Franklin County.
Blumenthal said, in addition to representing the children in court, GAL volunteers seek to provide more normalcy for children who are neglected, abused and displaced.
A second not-for-profit, Child Advocates, II (CAII), supports GAL by raising funds to provide clothing, transportation, school supplies, housing, medical and dental care and more for children whose total needs are not met by existing state agencies. This may include children in the foster system and young people over 18 who “age out” of care and may be handed their belongings in a plastic trash bag and left with no place to go.
CAII helps kids aging out of the system to get set up in their first home. Blumenthal said that in 2013, they provided gifts for more than 400 children at Christmas. CAII serves Leon, Franklin, Gadsden, Wakulla, Jefferson, and Liberty counties.
For more information about CAII, GAL and volunteering opportunities, visit http://gal2.org/ or call (866) 341-1425.