Letter: Volunteers needed for Guardian Ad Litem Program
Guardians Ad Litem are trained volunteers who represent the interests of minor children in any court hearing. The cases vary: while they can include custody hearings during divorce cases, or cases where a minor is accused of a crime, many cases involve Children In Need of Supervision — children who are taken into state custody to protect them from abuse or neglect. The Guardian Ad Litem gathers information about every aspect of the child's situation in preparation for court hearings — talking with the child, visiting the child's home, foster placement and school; talking with parents, teachers, and service providers, and collaborating with the child's attorney. The Guardian's only focus is the best interests of the child.
Recently the number of children in state custody, particularly in Windham County has soared, and the state desperately needs more volunteer Guardians Ad Litem. Once I decided to become a GAL, I discovered how strongly the program encourages and supports volunteers, starting with the training program. After a thorough interview and background check, a three-day pre-training gives volunteers a sense of what a GAL does and some of the issues that families bring to the cases.
The next step is observing in Family Court, and then trainees shadow a current GAL in one or more cases, before sharing a case with a mentor and, eventually, taking on a case with a mentor's support. Carrie Storm, the Guardian Ad Litem coordinator is a most amazing person and administrator, and GALs, judges, and court staff are welcoming.
Potential volunteers may be wondering about the time commitment. The Guardian program is super-flexible, even when GALs actually take on cases. Before that, each trainee decides when to observe hearings, when to shadow someone, when to take a case with a mentor, and which case or cases to take on. Some GALs take only one or a few cases at a time, which might mean a commitment of a few hours a month; others are willing to commit more time, taking on more - and more complicated — cases. But GALS can team up with another GAL, or if they can't attend a hearing they can call in, or arrange for another GAL to attend.
The next three-day pre-training session in Brattleboro will be April 5, 6, and 7. While the training is offered around the state, a Brattleboro-based training would be handier for southern Vermont trainees. The best way to move ahead would be to contact Carrie via email at Carrie.Storm@vermont.gov.
Carrie and some Guardians Ad Litem will also be at the River Garden tonight, Jan. 6, during Gallery Walk, to answer questions about the Guardian Ad Litem Program and meet potential volunteers.
Putney, Jan 5
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