The Manatee County Commission Tuesday presented a proclamation to the Guardian ad Litem Program and its volunteers recognizing April as Guardian ad Litem
Volunteer Recognition Month.
April is also National Child Abuse Prevention Month and the week of April 19-25 is celebrated as National Volunteer Week.
It is only fitting that during April we recognize the selfless volunteers who give time and energy to represent the children in our community who have endured abuse,
abandonment or neglect.
For the past 12 months you, as readers, have been looking into the lives of the 1,100 abused, abandoned or neglected children in the 12th Circuit and examining the system that works to ensure they have a safe home while their parents are working to change the circumstances that brought the children into care. Hopefully, you better understand the complexity and challenges the system presents.
In this column we have examined everything from considerations for removal, provision of services to the children and their families, issues with finding safe placement for the children during as well as the reunification and adoption process.
We've done our best to understand a fluid system ever-evolving as funding and society change. We've explored the unique problems each child brings when they come into the system and the way volunteers reach out to bring about needed change.
We've looked at the effect of the prescription drug epidemic and the economy on our children. We've also explored the challenges of teens aging out of the system ill-prepared to start life on their own.
I swell with pride when talking about our volunteers. Readers have met some in the past few weeks and heard their thoughts on the job they do so well. GAL volunteers are all exceptional because of their passion to do right for children.
There is always room for more volunteers.What is expected of that volunteer? They need to be a full-time Florida residents with a clean record, have a valid driver's license and a computer and be computer literate -- and attend a 30-hour training session to be certified.
Once trained, a GAL will be appointed by the court to represent the best interests of a child during legal dependency proceedings and make recommendations to the court on critical issues for the child such as permanency,
placement, visitation and education.
Volunteers monitor case progress, attend case meetings called "staffings" and appear at court proceedings. GAL volunteers champion services for the child involving needs in all areas of life, including mental and physical health, medication, immigration and education.
The GAL informs the court about the wishes of the child even when those wishes may not be in the child's best interest. GAL volunteers are required to visit the child at least once a month in the child's home.
It is a great honor to bring a ray of light, hope and understanding to children living in the shadows of abuse. I applaud all dedicated GAL volunteers who make a difference for children. They deserve to be recognized for their work even though most of the ones I know would shy away from any recognition.
It has been a privilege to bring you a look inside the dependency system this past year. I thank the Bradenton Herald for allowing GAL this opportunity and the readers for being receptive to learning about the Guardian ad Litem Program and the dependency system.
The GAL Program is always accessible through the www.12gal.org website for questions or information.
Pam Hindman, is the 12th Circuit director for the Guardian ad litem program.