EDITOR'S NOTE: This week Ask the GAL provides another Guardian ad Litem Volunteer Spotlight in which a child advocate volunteer responds to questions relating to their work as a Guardian ad Litem. Today's column spotlights Bruce Gilburne, a native of Brooklyn, N.Y., who has lived in Manatee County for the past 10 years. Bruce is vice president of Triggit Inc., an internet marketing company for Fortune 500 companies.
Q: Does your work experience help with your volunteer work and, if so, how?
A: Yes, it's the same skill set to work with a multi-level organization with multiple personalities, and asking questions.
Q: What motivated you to become a guardian ad litem volunteer?
A: I hated just seeing the money I gave away wasted or going to undeserving people. Here I can actually make a difference in a few kids' lives. Also giving money is easier than committing to a cause and giving time. I wanted something more hands on.
Q: How would you describe your role as a GAL volunteer?
A: I'm an information gather, and a protector of the kids in the legal and foster care system. I am the voice of the kids, and only care about what is best for them. I do not care about hurting the feelings of anyone working in the system. It is just about the kids, who are in many instances too young to speak for themselves.
Q: As a fairly new GAL have you seen any progress on your case?
A: Yes, unfortunately in the case I have the parents have not seen their children in six months. Now next steps must be taken.
Q: Who else has been instrumental in making positive changes for the children you represent?
A: By far the best people in the system are the foster parents. I have had the honor of working with three foster parents. It is a thankless, very, very low-paying job. If you look at the hours they work they probably make $1.50 an hour. But when you see the love and caring that they give it is amazing.
These are people that get calls at 2 in the morning because kids were taken away from their parents and there is nowhere to take them. Many already have a full home, but they just can't say no. This is a full-time, 24-hour-a-day commitment, which I could never do. The foster parents are the real heroes! The other heroes are the case workers who also are underpaid and overloaded with cases.
Q: What are the frustrations and challenges you have encountered?
A: Our legal system stinks! The laws on the books stink. (The people I've met in the system are great.) I can't imagine who actually wrote these laws and thought they were good for kids or society. The other huge frustration is that bad people, the
ones who beat and starve children, get services that we just can't afford with our current budget problems. It is very frustrating to see people that do terrible things get housing subsidies, medical subsidies, medical therapies and counseling. They also get one free attorney for their criminal case and another free attorney in custodial court.
How can you not be frustrated when the neglected and abused children need that money, not on the criminals? If we do not spend more money to help these abused and neglected kids now, how will they become normal productive members of society? It is very frustrating when one of the kids I represent has to wait for a therapy or test they need and the abusive parent gets appointments with two mental health doctors. In a perfect world, we would have an unlimited budget for both, but we don't live in a perfect world so we must prioritize. I think we need to prioritize in favor of the abused and neglected children.
Q: Do you have difficulty becoming too emotionally attached to the children in your role as an advocate?
A: What do you mean difficulty? It is just human, I got attached from day one, and I call them my kids.
Q: What changes would you like to see for the children in dependency?
A: I would like to see some of the laws changed in favor of the kids. The length of time for permanency is just too long, and too many second and third chances are given to the parents. When I was in training and went to court, we saw a mother get her child back after three months! She changed her life around, followed her case plan and did it. It can be done quickly if the parents really want their kids back.
Q: How does being a volunteer fit with the rest of your life?
A: The first few months between training and learning take up a bunch of time (20 -25 hours a month), but now I spend about 10 hours a months. Because of my relationship with the foster parents, my supervisor at GAL, and the case worker, we can do a lot over text and email. It really is easy now.
Q: Would you encourage others to volunteer?
A: Only if they want to make a big difference in some children's lives; more than they could ever make by just writing a check.
-- For information on future training, please visit www.12gal.org or contact the Manatee Guardian ad Litem Office at 941-744-9473.