Volunteers needed to represent abused children in court

Posted June 2, 2008

— Last year, approximately 17,700 abused and neglected children ended up in North Carolina courtrooms.

As the state courts decide what is best for these children, a volunteer advocate, called a guardian ad litem, is appointed to represent the child and his or her best interests.

Last year, the state held a record 38,628 child abuse and neglect hearings.

Established by the General Assembly in 1983, the guardian ad litem program statewide has 64 offices, approximately 100 attorneys and more than 4,600 volunteers. The term is Latin for someone appointed a guardian "only for purposes of litigation."

The state director of the program, Jane Volland, says the continued rise of child abuse means more volunteers are desperately needed.

"The volunteers are needed, because they're really the backbone of the program," she said. "They're the voice for the children."

Earlier this year, the program kicked off a campaign to recruit more volunteers, who need no legal background. They are required to go through 25 hours of training.

Melissa St. John, who has volunteered with the program for two years, says her experience has helped her see the world in a different way.

"Children are so incredibly resilient and so incredibly strong, and I think I've learned a whole new respect for children by being a part of this program," she said.

Wake County's chief district judge, Robert Rader, says the program is about more than just crisis management.

When children are abused and don't get the help they need, studies show they often can end up in the criminal justice system as defendants.

"I think you've got a lot of kids who are at risk for problems in the future," Rader said. "If you don't address those issues early, the probability that they are going to end up in jail or prison or the juvenile criminal justice system is very high."

Preventing this outcome motivates volunteers like St. John.

"Sometimes, it takes longer than others, but I think ultimately, with everyone working together, we can establish a safe and positive environment for most children," she said.


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  • just my2cents Jun 4, 2008
    is a website with more info
    It is a great program.

  • ShareTheRoad Jun 3, 2008

    I'd love to consider'd be great if the article provided information on how to do so. Who do we contact to volunteer?

  • kal Jun 3, 2008

    PLEASE - help our children let their voices be heard.

    If you have some extra time - The children need YOU

  • stephba Jun 3, 2008

    How appropriate that this article appeared just days after I mentioned this program in a blog.It is a wonderful program that really does need people who want to make sure that children have a voice in the system.From our adoption experience I can tell you that MOST children do not have a guardian ad litem.I can also attest to the benefit of the guardians because when we were considering different children we would always ask if they had a guardian ad litem.Most of the time they didnt but those that did could give us more insight into the child and the child's history.Their opinions were invaluable to us and helped us decide if we would have the skills needed to parent a particular child.Since they are volunteers, it is easier to trust their comments than a social worker's who may be willing to say anything to place a child.Our son was in a car accident shortly after coming into the system and he did not get a g.a.l. and his mother ended up with all the money!So please consider it!