Guardian Ad Litem offers voices for children, looking for volunteers
Published 10:29 pm Thursday, March 31, 2016
According to District Administrator Lee Bradley with the Guardian Ad Litem program, historically when it comes to cases involving the Department of Social Services, children often do not receive an advocate for their best interests.
“One parent would have an attorney, another parent would have an attorney and the DSS would have an attorney,” Bradley said. “But what about the kid? What is his or her best interest? The GAL program is always looking for volunteers to bring voices to these children.”
The Guardian Ad Litem program, which literally means “Guardian for the Case,” was established in 1983 by the North Carolina General Assembly, and equips community volunteers to serve abused and neglected children by advocating for their best interests in court, according to the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts.
Bradley is the administrator of the 29 A/B District that includes Polk, Rutherford, McDowell, Henderson and Transylvania counties. His role is to interview potential volunteers and assign them to cases in the district and to work in conjunction with DSS officials, including Kim Wilson, to facilitate a healthy environment for children in need.
“Any time that our office files a petition, usually a petition with the district courts system here, if the petition alleges that a child has been abused or neglected, then the court is going to appoint a Guardian Ad Litem for the child,” Wilson explained. “The Guardian Ad Litem does their own assessment of the allegations contained in the file and advocates for the child’s best interests. It is separate from the Department of Social Services.”
There is always a need for volunteers, according to Bradley. Volunteers are required to complete 30 hours of training and are appointed by the court with an attorney after doing an interview and background check with the program’s main district office in Hendersonville.
“Anyone can volunteer and anyone is qualified,” Bradley explained. “That’s always the magic question I get whenever I go out to speak to individuals or groups. They always ask, ‘How many volunteers do you need?’ I would rather have a surplus of individuals who want to sign up than a shortage in any event.”
Making recommendations to the court system on behalf of what is best for the child involved in the case is the purpose of the GAL program, according to Bradley.
“When we get involved, our only job is to focus on what the best interest is for the child,” Bradley said. “That’s not to say that we don’t work with the parents on the case, but we’re kind of employed to work side by side but separately with the Department of Social Services in investigations to make recommendations back to the court.”
Bradley said he has noticed there is an increase in volunteers during the month of April, since April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. He hopes to see an increase in people, including a more diverse set of people, who sign up during the summer months this year.
“In April, it is probably our busiest month as with anything,” Bradley explained. “We recruit 24/7, all year round and we try to do quarterly training sessions depending on the volunteers and the numbers. April is where we do more advertising, and the governor will do something for the month, and so we see an influx in people getting in contact with us and a larger audience.”
Because volunteers with the program typically spend eight hours with a child’s case a month, having multiple cases can allow some volunteers to work full time if they have up to five cases, according to Bradley.
“I know of someone from here in Polk County who, once she finished her only case, came to us and asked us if there were any cases available in Henderson County,” Bradley recalled. “Volunteers are allowed to be transplanted among the counties in the district and, as long as they don’t mind the commute to the court hearings and all, it’s okay.”
To volunteer with the Guardian Ad Litem program, contact Lee Bradley at 828-694-4215 or go to www.volunteerforgal.org.