YOU could be a G.A.L.! “ What’s that?” you ask. A GAL (Guardian ad Litem) is a trained volunteer appointed by the court to advocate for the best interests of an abused or neglected child. In court, the GAL serves as an important voice for the child.
Children who are abused or neglected are removed from their homes by the Department of Social Services. During the court process of finding a home (foster care, relatives, return to biological parents, placement for adoption) for these children, a GAL is paired with a court appointed attorney to seek the best solution for the child.
As every parent knows, raising a child is difficult and stressful. During these hard economic times child abuse and neglect has increased as parents stressed out over the loss of jobs and income sometimes take out their frustrations on their children. In one recent study in 74 counties in four states child abuse increased by 65 percent.
In 2009, about 750,000 cases of child abuse were substantiated nationwide. Children birth to four years of age are most likely to be abused. Abuse is associated with poor school performance, juvenile delinquency, unemployment, and suicide. Many adults who are abusers report that they were abused as children. Advocating for children who are abused or neglected can help prevent these other problems. Remember, prevention is always cheaper and more effective than treatment!
So, you love children and want to help. Great, the need is urgent! Volunteers come from all walks of life and have a variety of professional, educational, and ethnic backgrounds. No special education or experience is required but volunteers must complete a 30-hour training program. Volunteers visit the child at least once a month, conduct interviews, and attend court. Your role is to investigate, observe, and advocate for the child. By State Statute, you are not liable for your work as long as you act in good faith and aren’t guilty of gross negligence.
You’re not on your own – there are experienced guardians who can help you and Shannon Cowan, Program Coordinator for Judicial District 30, is available to assist.
So, guys and gals, won’t you join me as a G.A.L.? I’ve found it a very rewarding way of giving back to the community by helping children in distress have a chance for a bright future. Please call (828)349-2409.
Gene Tunnell — Franklin, N.C.