MANATEE -- Want to make a difference in a child's life?
The Guardian ad Litem Program for the 12th Judicial Circuit Court is looking for volunteers for enrollment in its September classes at State College of Florida.
There are presently 1,071 children in DeSoto, Manatee and Sarasota counties who are wards of the state, but only 373 active guardians.
"We always need volunteers because we're always getting new cases," said Jo Havers, the Guardian ad Litem recruiter. "It's not unusual for one guardian to handle three to four children, but our goal is to have 100 percent representation in the 12th Circuit, so every child in the dependency system will have their rights protected and heard by a guardian."
The Guardian ad Litem program provides an abused, neglected or abandoned child with a trained, court-appointed volunteer who visits them monthly, develops a relationship with them and goes to court with a Guardian ad Litem attorney to ensure the child's wishes and needs are be
A Guardian ad Litem may visit the foster home, school or day care if it's a young child, or the doctor's office.
"They visit anybody who touches that child's life," Haver said.
No experience is necessary, but volunteers must be at least 21, a full-time Florida resident, have basic computer skills and no felonies.
"They need a compassionate heart, too," Havers said. "They advocate for the best interests of the child. Once the child has been removed from their home, a guardian is appointed by the court to the case and what they do is make sure the child's needs are met while the child is under the state's care."
Volunteers need not be retirees, either.
"We are seeing a surge in younger volunteers who have a flexible work schedule," Havers said. "It's great because they're bringing a different perspective to it."
Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix