WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Going into a courtroom can be a scary experience, especially if you're just a kid who's had bad things happen before especially since what happens in court determines where and with whom you will live.
Florida’s Guardian ad Litem Program aims to help those children
"They have feelings too,” explained Cicely Roberts, the circuit director for the Guardian ad Litem Office, 15th Circuit in West Palm Beach. “They have rights that need to be protected and that's what makes it so rewarding that you're helping a child that has been abused, abandoned or neglected."
The Guardian ad Litem Program in West Palm Beach has more than 400 volunteers. At least five more have come forward to volunteer after seeing the case involving the Barahonas ; however, with more than a thousand children to help, the need for more volunteers is constant.
"The need is huge because we have children coming into care every day,” said Roberts, “so we can never have enough."
Volunteers go through 30 hours of training and vigorous background checks. You don't have to have a legal background, but you do have to love children.
"We’re looking for people with a huge heart and people who have a lot of time and are committed to representing the child's best interests,” Roberts added. “Those are the type of people we need."
Volunteers will spend time with children and their caregivers and observe how they interact.
"They look for the children's behavior in different types of settings: in the home or whichever home setting they're placed in. They look at their behavior in the school system. They may look at the child’s behavior at church or other activities.”
Guardian ad Litem volunteers save the state of Florida $8.5 million, but their biggest contributions can't be measured with dollar signs.
Roberts recalled a child who was placed five times in four months.
“The only constant in that child’s life was that volunteer. The time and effort and your dedication and commitment to a child who is going through such a traumatic experience is invaluable," she said.
To be a Guardian ad Litem volunteer, you must be at least 21 years old. Volunteers spend about 12 hours a month helping with children, including nights and weekends. The Guardian ad Litem program is especially interested in having volunteers from all types of backgrounds and from all over Palm Beach County. To learn more, call: (561) 355-2773. You can also find more information on the office in Palm Beach County at: www.galpbc.org or go to www.gal.fl.gov to learn more about the Guardian ad Litem program statewide in Florida.