TAVARES — April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, and there are few better ways to help protect local children than becoming a volunteer with the 5th Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem (GAL) Program.
The program is currently seeking advocates to be a voice for abused, neglected or abandoned children whose cases are being heard in dependency court.
A guardian ad litem is a trained volunteer appointed by the court to advocate on behalf of a child. The GAL becomes familiar with the child’s case and makes recommendations to the court to help ensure a safe, stable, permanent environment for the child. The volunteer works as part of a team including a volunteer supervisor and program attorney.
“There are about 1,700 children in Lake, Marion, Sumter, Hernando and Citrus counties who have been removed from their homes for alleged abuse, abandonment or neglect, who are now part of a dependency court proceeding,” said Marcia Hilty, Circuit Director of the Guardian ad Litem Program for 5th Judicial Circuit. “These children need someone who will speak up for them.”
Eligible volunteers must be 21 years of age and older (adults between 19 and 21 years are also eligible to work alongside a certified volunteer GAL), successfully complete the pre-service training program and be cleared of any serious criminal history via a level II criminal background check. A GAL must successfully complete 30 hours of pre-service training. On average, volunteers should expect to spend five-10 hours a month on a case, and most cases last 10 months.
The program’s next three-day training session is from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. March 31 and April 1 and from 9 a.m. - 5:45 p.m. on April 17 at the Ocala Police Department, 402 S. Pine Ave., Ocala. Additional training sessions are also scheduled for June and August.
To find out more about the program, contact Sarah Jay at 352-274-5231 or email Sarah.Jay@gal.fl.gov. To download an application, visit www.guardianadlitem.org.