Too often, children involved in court cases are without a voice while everyone else involved present various sides of stories that determine the future direction of these children’s lives. That’s where a Guardian Ad Litem, or GAL as it is sometimes called, comes in. Even then, in most places, there aren’t enough of them to go around. However, thanks to the SCC Criminal Justice program, this will be less of a problem in Sampson County starting today.
Michelle Edge and Candace Taylor, SCC students, were particularly interested when the college hosted a Guardian Ad Litem guest speaker recently. While discussing various agencies that work with the court and presenting what they do in the community and how they assist the courts and the Department of Social Services in case work, the GAL case workers advised the class that they were accepting volunteer applications and if any student who met certain criteria wanted to apply as a volunteer and get case work and court experience, that they may do so.
Edge and Taylor were very interested, applied and each was accepted and completed the several hours of volunteer training provided by GAL before finally being sworn in this week. This opportunity will offer them case and court experience to help further prepare them for the field in the future. It also gives them many professional contacts in the community and in the Sampson Countyc courts that will be helpful to their careers.
A Guardian ad Litem advocate is a trained community volunteer who is appointed, along with a Guardian ad Litem attorney, by a District Court judge to investigate and determine the needs of abused and neglected children petitioned into the court system by the Department of Social Services. Their role is mandated by North Carolina General Statute 7B-601.
Throughout North Carolina, the Guardian ad Litem (GAL) Program seeks to serve the best interests of thousands of children who find themselves the subjects of court cases by assigning them Guardian ad Litem volunteers. Our program exists in every county throughout the state, and GALs serve more than 15,000 children a year.
GAL volunteers’ responsibilities include digging for details in the case, collaborating with other participants in the case, recommending what’s best for child by writing court reports, empowering the child’s voice, staying vigilant by constantly monitoring the case, and keeping all information confidential.
The main qualification for becoming a GAL is to have a sincere concern for the well-being of children. There are no education or experience requirements. GAL advocates commit to spending at least 8 hours per month on a case, and cases usually take at least a year to be resolved. For more information on SCC’s Criminal Justice program, email Jennifer Wiley at [email protected]