In the summer of 2016, I was longing for a way to serve my community in a meaningful way. I wanted a ministry independent from my church, that really stretched me. After a Google search for opportunities in my area, the Guardian ad Litem program popped up.
The key words that jumped out at me in the blurb under the website link were “children”, “legal system”, and “advocate” – all TOTALLY up my alley in terms of interest level. After digging some more, I learned about this amazing opportunity that the average person can take hold of – all over the country!
Prior to this search, I had never heard of a Guardian ad Litem. I knew nothing of this program or of its incredible impact on the lives of children. I was buzzing with excitement as I read through a description of all this role encompasses.
Here’s the short version:
A Guardian ad Litem is a “guardian appointed by the court” for a person or persons in need of representation within the legal system. Guardians are appointed in multiple arenas including, but not limited to: the elderly, children who have parents going through a divorce, adoption cases, and abused / neglected children.
The program I had stumbled upon was related to abused and neglected children in my city. The opportunity was that, after 30 hours of training, I would be assigned cases wherein the following takes place:
- I perform an independent investigation of the events that led to the charges against the offending party/parties. This can include requests of police and medical records, visits to schools, home visits, review of forensic interviews, and so on.
- Upon completion of the investigation, I would then compile a court report to be delivered to the judge, and which contained my assessment of the situation, and recommendations for custody, visitation, and additional services.
- Typically, if the case is not closed at the first court hearing (which mine never have, to this point), the offending person(s) must follow a court appointed treatment plan (which can take months), and I would then monitor the child(ren) via monthly home visits.
- All of this takes place in conjunction with DSS and the caseworker they’ve also assigned to the case.
The training, which may sound overwhelming, was SO doable. I work full time and was able to make it happen. Basically, in my community, the training is a hybrid of in person sessions and at home, online sessions. The in person training was offered multiple days of the week, and in the mornings and evenings – they really seek to make it feasible for everyone.
In training, you learn all about the legal process, what constitutes abuse and neglect, what treatment plan and service options are in the community, how to write a report, what satisfies the “minimal accepted level of care” in a child’s home, and so much more. There is role-play, mock court report writing, case studies, and a slew of other super helpful exercises.
The average time I spend each month on a case, after the initial investigation, is about 3-4 hours. That includes phone calls, home visits, and writing a very brief monthly monitoring report. As a full time employed person, I’m able to handle two cases or so at a time. Each case can last quite a number of months, so they don’t change very frequently.
So, I say all of this because this program is always in need of more volunteers around the country. I honestly think part of that is because they don’t have a lot of publicity – word of mouth is really what’s going to help them out. So, if you’ve always wanted to make a difference in the life of a child, and the legal system is of interest to you, I would encourage that you investigate the program in your county.
Thanks for reading!