Editor’s Note: This continues our Celebrate Community series on nonprofit organizations that improve Santa Rosa County residents’ quality of life.
MILTON — Guardian Ad Litem volunteers advocate for children who have been abandoned, abused or neglected, and removed from an unsafe situation.
However, there are only enough advocate volunteers in Circuit One, which covers Santa Rosa, Escambia, Okaloosa and Walton counties, to cover 69 percent of those children, according to Guardian Ad Litem Circuit One volunteer recruiter Carol Thomas.
Guardian Ad Litem operates on a team concept, according to Thomas. "The child’s attorney, case manager and the volunteer … We’re the only entity that’s for the best interest of the child; maybe not their wishes, but their best interest," she said.
The volunteer is the child’s main point of contact throughout their case and six months after.
“We visit the child on regular basis,” Thomas said. “We go to court for the child … We provide reports filed with the court about how the child is doing … We go to school meetings, arraignments, mediations … We meet with social workers, go to schools, daycares. We see them in all situations. We can even get transportation-certified to take them out for ice cream. We’re just that constant in the child’s life.”
One of the Guardian Ad Litem goals is to give the child as much normalcy as possible.
“Sometimes we’re advocating for that,” Thomas said. “We might get cleats to try out for football because that’s what they’d be doing normally. Maybe this child was taking ballet all her life and we need to figure out how … to make that happen.”
The process of becoming a Guardian Ad Litem volunteer starts with a background check.
“Then we bring them in for an interview with the case advocate manager, the person working with them on the team,” Thomas said. “You learn about each other. Training starts with an eight-hour course, an eight-hour classroom, and then a four-hour legal training with an attorney. We want you to understand the path of the case. Then you have two independent studies online.”
So, what are the requirements to volunteer?
“You have to be 21, pass a level two background check, and also have a heart … You see the child on your time. Lots of people see their children on Saturday or Sunday afternoon or after work.”
Just about anyone can do this, according to Thomas.
“It’s incredibly rewarding,” she said. “The children look so forward to seeing and hearing from us. I realized I can’t cure cancer and I can’t stop hunger in Somalia, but I can make a difference in a child’s life.
"Not everyone can adopt or foster, but they can certainly come and do this.”
See http://guardianadlitem.org more information on the program and how to volunteer.