TAVARES — The Guardian ad Litem (GAL) program is currently seeking volunteer advocates to be a voice for abused, neglected or abandoned children whose cases are in the court system.
A GAL 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.
Research has shown that when a child whose case is being heard in dependency court is assigned to a Guardian ad Litem (GAL) volunteer, they spend less time in foster care and do better in school. Sadly, there are more children in the system than volunteers to serve them, according to Marcia Hilty, Circuit Director of GAL Program for 5th Judicial Circuit, which includes Lake County.
“On any given day in the 5th Judicial Circuit, more than 1,500 children are involved with our local dependency courts due to abuse and neglect,” said Hilty. “The majority of these children are below eight years of age. 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 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 four-part training session begins Monday, June 9 and continues on June 10, 12 and 13 at the Oxford Assembly of God, 12114 N. U.S. Highway 301 in Oxford near The Villages. 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.