Helping children, fixing families

Published 8:00 am Friday, April 27, 2018

Green Creek woman advocating for youth through Guardian ad Litem

POLK COUNTY — With decades of experience in engineering and construction, Green Creek’s Libby Morris is used to solving problems.

Since her retirement two years ago, Morris continues to put her sharp, perceptive mind to great use. Only now, instead of working with structures, roads and bridges, the local woman has a different mission — advocating on behalf of children who have been removed from their homes and placed into foster care. 

Libby Morris

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For the past several years, Morris has worked as an advocate with the North Carolina Guardian ad Litem program, where she works with some of Polk County’s most vulnerable children, serving as their voice in the courtroom and a supportive hand through turbulent waters.

Handling cases where children have been removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect — often because of drug use by their parents — serving as a Guardian ad Litem has opened Morris’ eyes to a side of her community she never witnessed before. The combination of her years of experience working to solve complex issues and the extensive training she has received through the GAL program has allowed her to drill down and help provide answers and support for the many children she has worked with over the years.

“It’s like when you run into an issue in engineering — you step back and break things down to the fundamentals,” Morris said. “What parenting didn’t happen? Are the children’s needs being met?”

Morris has lived in the Carolinas for years, moving to Greenville after receiving her master’s degree in civil engineering, she said. Working with massive engineering firms like Fluor and Jacobs, Morris served clients on projects across the country — and the globe — giving her plenty of time to do some reading while flying or riding the train, she said.

It was around eight years ago that she first heard the term “Guardian ad Litem,” while flipping through pages of a book someone had left in the seat-back pocket of the plane she was riding at the time, she said. While Morris does not recall the name of the book, or even much about the plot of the story, she vividly remembers  that one of the characters was a Guardian ad Litem, who stood out due to her steadfast support of one of the children featured in the novel.

“The character listened to the child, and understood them,” she said. “She figured out what the kid wanted, and worked to help them out.”

Shortly after her retirement — or “pseudo-retirement,” as she calls it, as she still does consulting work and teaching — she read in the newspaper that the local Guardian ad Litem program was looking for volunteers. Recognizing the name, she was intrigued by the program, and signed up for training.

The 40-hour preparation program was a “huge eye opener” for Morris, as it taught her how to recognize whether or not a child is being treated well by their parents, as well as how to figure out the conditions that may lead to custody loss. Since being sworn in as a Guardian ad Litem, she has had the opportunity to attend other educational seminars as well, where she has learned more about early childhood trauma, the opioid crisis and other subjects related to childhood abuse and neglect.

Morris puts this knowledge to use with every case she is assigned, often pouring hours of her time going through court documents; interviewing the children, parents and foster family; and even mapping out family relationships to determine the best course of action for the child.

“I dive right into the details, to try and understand how the situation got to where it is now,” Morris said. “What were the factors? Who were the major players? I will follow up until the case is concluded.”

She also meets with her assigned children at least once a month, to see how they are doing and to ask about their problems. Oftentimes, their conversations focus on lighter subjects, like how the children are doing in school or — for the teenagers she works with — how their last date went.

For Morris, who considers herself to have lived a very “lucky” life, working with children through the GAL program is her way of giving back, to make a difference in the lives of others. For her, the best reward is just having a child say “thank you,” or “Ms. Libby, I’m so happy to see you.”

“It’s very rewarding, and very fulfilling,” she said. “Service is all about doing good things for others, especially those who cannot help themselves.”

With April being National Child Abuse Prevention Month, officials with the GAL program said now is the perfect time for those interested in helping Polk County children to sign up and volunteer. People interested may visit and fill out an application, or can contact Kevin Blackwell, Guardian ad Litem District 29 B program supervisor, at 828-694-4215.