Ask the GAL: Do you have what it takes to stand up for a child?

February 13, 2013 

Amy Clark, a Senior Best Interest Attorney with the 12th Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program, has been advocating for the best interest of dependency children for the past 7 years. Part of her responsibility with the program is to help prepare new volunteers for their role in representing children.

Preparing to Become a Guardian ad Litem Volunteer.

You have heard the name Guardian ad Litem. You know that they help children who have been abused, neglected, or abandoned. You may have even thought of becoming one, but wonder if you have what it takes to stand up for a child. Well, the reality is that anyone who enjoys dealing with people and loves children -- mothers, fathers, teachers, nurses, waitresses, truck drivers, etc., -- has the ability to do right for a child. If you are willing then the Guardian ad Litem Program will do the rest to prepare you.

Before you ever meet a child or step into the court room you undergo 30 hours of training. This training consists of several different components that provide an overview of the entire dependency system. The goal of this training is to provide the volunteer with a comprehensive understanding of what a child has to go through once a call has been made to the child abuse hotline (1-800.-962-2873).

The four days of training occur regularly throughout the year in both Manatee and Sarasota counties. The training day runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. with a one-hour lunch break. The typical training day is divided into classroom discussions, hands on exercises, and professional guest speakers. The Guardian ad Litem Program requires the training to cover a variety of topics related to children in the dependency system. These topics include areas such as diversity, child development, substance abuse, education, and the court system.

Guest speakers are brought in to help cover these topics. The speakers come from the Department of Children and Families, Child Protection Center, Child Protection

Investigators and attorneys that represent both the State as well as the parents. The speakers are able to create a very real picture of what child abuse looks like in this community. They emphasize the need for every child in the dependency system to have a Guardian ad Litem.

The training also includes a field trip to court. The trainees attend a morning session in either Manatee or Sarasota County Dependency Court. They observe court hearings dealing with the families in the dependency system. This provides a tremendous amount of insight into what was just discussed in class.

Finally, on the last day of training, a panel of seasoned Guardians ad litem comes and speaks candidly with all the new volunteers. This is by far the best part of training. The new volunteers hear real stories from guardians that were once newbies in their seats. The new volunteers have the opportunity to ask questions and feel more reassured that they will be able to advocate for a child.

Rest assured the training does not end when the four days are over. Every new Guardian ad Litem is paired with a mentor and/or child advocate coordinator who can answer any questions or concerns the volunteer may have. In addition, the Guardian ad Litem Program provides on going training throughout the year for all the volunteers. The program strives to educate and train every volunteer to become the best advocate for each and every child caught in the dependency system.

For more information on future training please visit our web site at www.12gal.org or contact the Manatee Guardian ad Litem Office at 941-744-9473.

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