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Volunteering often connotes leisurely, short-term, unskilled activity. The Guardian ad Litem is a different kind of volunteer.

体育在线365Appointed by the court, the Guardian ad Litem volunteer works as part of a team of professionals to advocate for the best interest of children who have been abused and neglected.

During court proceedings, the volunteer is seated at a table in front of the judge along with the two other members of the team — the Child Advocate Manager and the Best Interest Attorney. The judge carefully reads and often refers to status and permanency reports written by the volunteer, and the volunteer also has the opportunity to testify.

For nearly 20 years, I've been a volunteer Guardian ad Litem not because it is easy, short term, or unskilled but because it is hard. Being a volunteer Guardian ad Litem challenges you emotionally, intellectually, socially, and culturally.

体育在线365It challenges you to question your assumptions about family and permanency. You may find yourself in neighborhoods you didn't even know existed or working with families whose religion, race, ethnic identity, or social-economic status you don't share and know little about.

You will meet children who have little reason to trust yet another stranger. But the structure and support of the program allow you to meet these challenges.

The training is rigorous, relevant, and ongoing. As is true of any profession, continuing education is required. You are able to develop, use, and refine a host of skills: listening, observing, interviewing, researching, writing, networking, advocating. You don't work alone.

The Child Advocate Manager and Best Interest Attorney are available each step of the way from shelter to permanency. The mission of the Guardian ad Litem Program is clear and unequivocal: advocate for the safety and well-being of the child in the short and long term.  

You can only do your job well by developing a relationship of trust with the child, which takes time and patience. Ideally the volunteer and the child are able to freely communicate, and the volunteer is then able to advocate for and with the child. This is where your personal creativity often comes into play.

I was Guardian ad Litem of one teenage girl whose life had been full of trauma and disappointment.  As hard as I tried, I couldn't get her to speak to me. The more I talked, the quieter and more withdrawn she became. One day I found out she loved animals.

体育在线365So, I asked both her and the group home where she lived if I could bring my dog Paco Belle for a visit. From then on, I brought Paco each time I visited, and we walked about the grounds together as she enjoyed Paco’s tricks. Slowly she opened up, and I was able to help get her effective therapy.

Several months ago, I was in an office lobby and I heard a voice call my name.  I turned and recognized the teenager I hadn't seen in over a decade — now a lovely young woman. She continued, "It's me...You helped me and my sister get adopted."  Not easy, not short-term, but ultimately rewarding.

To learn more about the Guardian ad Litem Program or to volunteer visit www.gal2.org or call Maritza Waddle at 850-606-1213

Betsy Purdum has been a Guardian ad Litem volunteer for 20 years.

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