This week, Ask the GAL spotlights Amanda Jesse, a child advocate volunteer responding to questions on her work as a Guardian ad Litem.
Amanda Jesse moved to Bradenton in 1997. Her professional career includes being a journalist and columnist, an advertising firm executive, and owner of Porcupine Marketing Solutions Inc. Amanda is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington with degrees in creative writing and Spanish. In her spare time she is a coach of junior roller derby and co-leads a youth group at Manatee United Methodist Church. Her most important job, however, is being the mother of an amazing 12-year-old daughter.
Q: As a working professional, what type of work do you do?
A: My business focuses on total marketing and advertising for companies. I specialize in start-ups and small businesses as they provide opportunities for extra creativity and limitless potential. My work most certainly helps my volunteer work as a GAL.
But being a mother has helped me more than anything. There's something about the maternal instinct that transfers over to working as a GAL. Sometimes you just have a gut feeling that something isn't right in a situation. That intuition is a valuable tool.
Q: What motivated you to become a guardian ad litem volunteer?
A: A tremendous number of children in Manatee County are hurting because of abuse, neglect or abandonment. Before becoming a GAL I served as a panel chair for Manatee County Citizens Review, a group of trained citizens that heard child abuse cases on behalf of the court. I originally joined that program because, through my daughter's friendships at
school, I saw children who were removed from their home.
Unfortunately, this valuable program was temporarily disbanded. Judge Scott Brownell suggested to Citizens Review members that we consider the GAL program. I did, and while it is very different than my role with Citizens Review, I find it equally rewarding.
Q: How would you describe your role as a GAL volunteer?
A: GALs work with the children first. This can be extremely rewarding and frustrating at the same time. I believe every child deserves an advocate who will stand up in court, at school, at the doctor's office, or in case management conferences and speak in the best interest of that child.
Q: Is it what you expected?
A: By and large it is exactly what I expected, but I came into it having already worked with parents, caregivers, case managers, attorneys, and other GALs before becoming a GAL. I knew what to expect when interacting with parents who have a mental health diagnosis, substance abuse problems, and anger issues. I would imagine it could be a shock to someone who has never seen that side of life before.
The biggest learning curve for me was doing home visits, but the GAL office provided me with a mentor who guided me through that process with ease. (Thanks, Alfredo!)
Q: Who else has been instrumental in making positive changes for the children you represent?
I believe that it takes a whole team to make these positive changes and that communication between all parties involved in the case is absolutely essential. Case management, caregivers, facilitators, parents, attorneys, doctors, and children make the changes happen.
Q: What are the frustrations and challenges you have encountered?
A: Honestly? Lying parents are frustrating. Having to wait for approvals for money or for appointment availability for services also rank at the top of the list.
Q: Do you have difficulty becoming too emotionally attached to the children in your role as an advocate?
A: You do get emotionally attached. I won't deny that. However, like in any youth work or even parenting you know that someday they are going to have to "fly on their own." The best thing you can do is to give them your best and when they go you can be proud that you made a tiny difference in them living in a safe, permanent, forever home. That being said, I know some GALs continue to see the kids they've advocated for with permission from the permanent placement.
Q: How does being a volunteer fit with the rest of your life?
A: I have a daughter who understands and supports the reasons I do this because she has had friends who have gone through the process. In some ways, being a GAL volunteer is a teaching tool. I've spoken to groups about children in dependency. People really don't know what is going on with the children in our county! When I speak to young people and tell them there are children who are hurting much deeper than they are (when they complain mom or dad wouldn't buy them a new cell phone) it puts a new perspective on their privileged lives.
Q: How can we change the system to make it better for the children?
A: I believe children need to have as much normalcy in their lives when they are removed as possible. I would love to see more people step forward to become foster parents... I can tell you from my experience with my own cases spanning from infant age to age 17...these kids are not "damaged goods." They are amazing young lives with a lot of potential. They are vulnerable and need a "home base" so to speak. We have some wonderful group homes in our area, but nothing is more stable than a family -- even if it's just temporary.