Now is the time when many of us make resolutions about changes we will make in the upcoming year. Some popular resolutions are losing weight, exercising more, and paying off debt. These are all worthwhile, but in the words of popular TV Dr. Phil McGraw of "Dr. Phil," "How's that been working for you?"
Now is the time to stop making breakable New Year's resolutions and replace them with ones that make a difference in another person's life. Resolve to become a volunteer Guardian at Litem and help abused or neglected children find a permanent, safe home.
According to S.C. Volunteer Guardian ad Litem Program figures from June 2008, there are more than 5,000 children in South Carolina who have been experiencing tough times. These children have been removed from their homes because their families were not able to provide food, clothing, adequate medical treatment or a safe environment for children to grow. These children are now living in foster homes.
During the holiday seasons when most of us are sharing a sense of thankfulness and giving, these children feel alone and forgotten. The York County Volunteer Guardian ad Litem program provides volunteers to serve as advocates for these children when they come into foster care. These volunteers find out what the children want. They learn about their families, their school progress and their special needs.
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GAL volunteers work with all agencies involved with the child, including the Department of Social Services, Family Court, school and counselors, to help the child through this process. These children need volunteers to represent them throughout the year. A gift of four to six hours of your time each month can make a real difference in a child's life.
Last year, a shortage of volunteers forced the York County program to turn away more than 64 children. This year, the program's leadership has vowed to increase the number of children served. To accomplish this, we need more volunteers.
"Our volunteers offer the best hope for abused and neglected children," said Mary Hoppman, coordinator in York County. "They are the only participants in the Family Court system who focus solely on what is best for the children."
Volunteers learn investigative skills, interviewing techniques, report writing and Family Court procedures. They also are trained in family dynamics and cultural diversity.
Abused and neglected children are 53 percent more likely to become juvenile delinquents and 38 percent more likely to become violent criminals, according to a study by the National Institute of Justice.
Abused children also are more likely to abuse their own children, according to the study, continuing the cycle of abuse and crime. Having a concerned adult in a child's life can help break the cycle.
"Our volunteer Guardians are in this only to help children," Hoppman said. "The only pay they receive is the priceless satisfaction of helping to end child abuse, one child at a time."
The next training session for York County will begin Jan. 19. Anyone aged 21 or older may become a volunteer Guardian ad Litem. Each volunteer undergoes a background check. Call 803-327-9997 or visit york.scgal.org for more information or to download an application.
The South Carolina Volunteer Guardian ad Litem Program is a member of National CASA, nationalcasa.org.
Freda Miller of the S.C. Guardian ad Litem Program can be reached at 843-623-5630.