Today's column is a Volunteer Spotlight in which child advocate Jeremy Carter responds to questions relating to his work as a volunteer.
Jeremy Carter has been a Guardian ad Litem in Manatee County for five years. Jeremy was born in London and served as a teacher and a high school principal in schools in England, Pakistan, Lebanon, Sri Lanka, The Philippines, Jordan, and South Africa before retiring to Florida in 2006. Jeremy met his wife, Eilene, a USAID development officer, in Sri Lanka and they married in Manila, during a coup attempt, 23 years ago. Jeremy still serves as a consultant for the International Baccalaureate Organization, working with high schools in the U.S.
What did you do before becoming a GAL? Did your former experience help with your volunteer work and, if so, how?
I was the high school principal at The American International School of Johannesburg, South Africa. I have been a teacher and school administrator in a number of international schools. My experience of working with teenagers has been extremely useful to my volunteer work, as most of my cases involve older children.
How and why did you become a volunteer?
On retirement I wanted to continue to work with children. I had read about the GAL program and my neighbors were GALs. They introduced me to the program in Manatee County and helped me through the application process.
How would you describe your role as a GAL volunteer? Is this what you expected? How is it different? How would you describe it to someone else?
My role is pretty much as I had anticipated, except that as I work mostly with teenagers I am able go beyond being an advocate to the court and able to proactively support the child, though not as their primary caregiver.
What are some examples of your success stories? Who else has been instrumental in making positive changes on your cases?
Every time a family is reunited, that is a real success. It shows that the system works and that the parent(s) have been able to modify their relationship with their child in order to achieve their case plan goals. If reunification is not possible, then achieving the best possible alternative is the goal. The best success I have had in this instance is the adoption of a 17-year-old. My supervi
sor, Jan Vestal, has been a constant source of inspiration and support in all my cases.
What are some examples of your frustrations?
The process can seem rather long-winded. It takes time for the relevant authorities to conduct background checks and home inspections. Occasionally personnel can seem rather unimaginative in following procedure rather than making a decision that is clearly in the best interests of the child.
How does being a volunteer fit with the rest of your life?
It fits very well. I still work from time-to-time as an educational consultant, working with schools across the U.S. Also my wife and I like to travel. As staffing and court hearings are scheduled well in advance, I am able to plan ahead to ensure that I can consult, travel and still work my cases.
Would you encourage others to volunteer?
Absolutely, especially retirees. Being a Guardian ad Litem is not as difficult as it might seem. All you need is patience, tolerance and a little time. It's a great way to use the skills you have gained in your education and career to support children who, through no fault of their own, need a safety net. You can make a real contribution to society.
Have you been certified to transport children? How has that changed your relationship with the children?
I am certified to transport children. This has enabled me to increase the support I can give to the children in my cases. For instance, I have been able to take children to get their Florida ID, to open a bank account, and to look for an apartment as they transition to independent living.
Do you feel like cases end the way they should? Do we reunify too fast? Slow? With the right party?
All of the above. Each case is different and each outcome is achieved on a case-by-case basis.
What changes would you like to see for children in dependency?
The system works pretty well as it is. I would like it to be easier to get money for a child's immediate needs at the point when he/she is taken into shelter. At that point the child's needs can be really basic, such as clothing, as the child may only have the clothes he/she is wearing.
How can we change the system to make it better for the children?
Put more money into the system. Services, quality personnel and materials have costs.
Pam Hindman, director of the Guardian ad Litem program for the 12th Judicial Circuit, writes this weekly column for the Bradenton Herald. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to the Guardian ad Litem Program, 1051 Manatee Ave. W., Hensley Wing, Suite 330, Bradenton 34205.