Since Jan. 1, 343 children have entered the Guardian ad Litem program [in Buncombe County] — this means that 343 kids are alleged to have been abused/neglected and are in the court system. [Through] no fault of their own, these kids are typically removed from their homes and placed in foster care or a kinship placement. Why were they removed from the home? Maybe their parents abused substances, had untreated mental health [issues] or engaged in domestic violence — maybe it was a combination of these factors. Either way, it’s the kids who pay the ultimate penalty as their lives are uprooted; they often change school districts and are taken away from everything they know.
There are so many parties in a Department of Social Services abuse/neglect case: the judge, parents/caretakers, parents’ attorneys, DSS attorneys, GAL attorneys, investigative/in-home/foster care social workers — it’s easy to see how the kids get lost in the system. That’s where the role of the Guardian ad Litem comes in: to advocate and ensure the voice of the child is heard in court, that their wishes for permanency and best interest are made known to all parties.
With so many kids in the GAL program, our office is overwhelmed with cases, and we have a critical need for volunteers to represent children’s best interests in court. There is no experience necessary, and we provide all training and support. Being a GAL is a challenging and demanding role, but also incredibly rewarding as you literally ensure the child’s voice is heard in court throughout the life of the case.
Our next training begins mid-January — visit www.volunteerforgal.org to complete a volunteer application, or call the office at 828-259-3443 for more information. Could you be the voice for a child?
— Jenna Jackson