The most valuable gift anyone can give is time. Guidance and words of encouragement given by Volunteer Advocates are priceless to a child without a Guardian ad Litem.
Guardian ad Litem Child Advocate Volunteers have made the decision to speak up for a child in the dependency system, commonly referred to as the foster care system. Currently, there are more than 3,000 abused, abandoned and neglected children in Hillsborough County who are the subject of court proceedings. Children should not endure the system without a champion- that is why the Guardian ad Litem Program exists.
Trained Volunteer Child Advocates commit their efforts to represent these children so that each child’s needs are met and their voices are heard during their time in the dependency system.
Those who join the Guardian ad Litem Program definitely make a positive impact in a child’s life.
What exactly does a Volunteer Child Advocate do? The Guardian ad Litem (GAL) represents the “best interests” of the child in a variety of ways.
The first way is by gathering information.
• The Volunteer Child Advocate independently conducts a thorough investigation on behalf of the child.
• The Volunteer Child Advocate may interview all parties connected to the case including but not limited to: the child, parents, teachers, mental health professionals, etc.
• The Volunteer Child Advocate examines and collects records from many sources concerning the child including medical and educational.
• The Volunteer Child Advocate serves as a monitor of the agencies and persons who provide services to the child.
• The Volunteer Child Advocate assures that orders of the court are carried out, and that families and children in need receive the help that they should.
• The Volunteer Child Advocate acts as a spokesperson for the child assuring that the child’s wishes are heard and that the best interests of the child are presented to the Court and agencies dealing with the child.
• The Volunteer Child Advocate reports their findings and presents information to the Court and helps the Court determine what is in the child’s best interests. The Volunteer Child Advocate prepares a written report which becomes a permanent part of the child’s record.
What does it take to be a Volunteer Child Advocate and make a difference in the life of a child? The Program prepares volunteers and teaches them everything they need to know! They provide volunteers with GAL certification training. This is a three-part training program that includes an independent study portion, classwork, and hands-on training with an experienced Guardian ad Litem Volunteer Child Advocate.
The independent study combines an on-line segment and readings with a 15 hour classroom portion. Upon completing the 15 hour training volunteers are provisionally certified. They can then be assigned a case and begin the field component under the guidance of a Volunteer Child Advocate mentor. With the help of the mentor, volunteers learn and experience what it is like to be a Volunteer Child Advocate.
A Guardian ad Litem volunteer is a specially trained, child advocate whose dedicated advocacy ensures a dependent child’s safety, well-being, best interests and permanent placement. Working within a team of Program staff and attorneys, and alongside community-based social workers and community service providers, a Guardian ad Litem volunteer serves as the “voice for the child” in judicial dependency proceedings and in helping the child navigate the foster/relative care system.
Direct guidance and coaching of volunteers are provided by a Child Advocate Manager (CAM) and a Child Best Interest (CBI) Attorney. All of you work together within the Program’s team model of advocacy as stated in our Program’s Standards.
DUTIES & RESPONSIBILITIES
A. Complete, extensive and independent research and review of each case:
1. Perform monthly child visits in accordance with Program standards and policies. This includes submitting a child visitation report to your CAM on a monthly basis.
2. Speak with the child and relevant adults (parents, family members, school officials, doctors, service providers and others involved in the child’s life that may have facts about the case.)
3. Observe the child in interactions with parents, relatives and non-relatives.
B. Report findings and child’s wishes to the court by submitting reports prepared in accordance with Florida Statutes, Program Standards and policies for scheduled hearings:
Provide a written report containing factual information that you have independently verified utilizing the Program’s court reporting standard. This report is developed in collaboration with your CAM and CBI Attorney.
C. Ensure representation of the child’s best interests:
1. Attend or participate by phone, when permitted by the court, in all court hearings to see that relevant facts are presented.
2. Attend appropriate interagency meetings, staffings and mediations pertaining to the child.
D. Monitor the case following a court hearing or decision as designated by the court:
1. Ensure that the judicial and child welfare systems are moving forward to secure a safe, permanent home for the child.
2.Ensure that court-ordered services are provided for the child and family.
E. Consult regularly with your CAM on matters pertaining to assigned case(s):
1. Review case progress and discuss and identify issues concerning the child that need to be resolved.
2. Immediately inform your CAM about issues that may impact the child’s safety and/or well-being.
TRAINING & SUPPORT PLAN
A. Volunteers are required to successfully complete the Program’s comprehensive training and 12 hours of in-service training annually.
B. Volunteers are required to adhere to the Program’s current Standards and the Guardian ad Litem Code of Conduct.
C. Volunteers may have access to additional training opportunities offered by other community agencies.
D. Volunteers receive direct coaching, mentoring and guidance from Program staff utilizing a team model of advocacy.
E. Volunteers will receive additional support through the use of local volunteer mentor programs.
F. Volunteers must keep in regular contact with their CAM regarding case progress or issues.
A. Volunteers are required to commit the necessary time to adequately complete their assigned case(s). Volunteers, on average, spend an average 8-12 hours a month on each case.
B. Volunteers are expected to be available for case assignment and to accept cases as soon as possible upon completion of pre-service training.
D. Volunteers with a lapse of more than six months without an active case will lose their certification or may become a non-case volunteer as long as the volunteer accepts and agrees to perform another role within the Program.
QUALIFICATIONS, KNOWLEDGE, SKILLS & ABILITIES
A. Demonstrate the ability to maintain confidentiality and adhere to the Program’s current Standards and Code of Conduct.
B. Demonstrate the ability to communicate effectively both orally and in writing.
C. Demonstrate the ability to respect people from various ethnic, cultural, religious, social and economic backgrounds.
D. Demonstrate the ability to maintain objectivity in stressful or emotional situations.
E. Possess the basic understanding of child development and the dynamics of family relationships.
F. Exhibits good common sense