Enquirer Herald

Local volunteers needed for Guardian ad Litem program

The Guardian ad Litem Program wants to train local volunteers to represent children who have been victims of abuse and neglect and placed in the Department of Social Services’ protection.

The Cass Elias McCarter Guardian ad Litem Program of York County is bringing National Child Abuse Prevention Month to a close by hosting a free training class on April 30.

The program wants to train local volunteers to represent children who have been victims of abuse and neglect and placed in the Department of Social Services’ protection.

According to data compiled by the Children’s Defense Fund, 4,938 children in South Carolina were placed in foster care due to abusive home situations in 2011. The non-profit child advocacy organization reported that 513 of these children were successfully adopted out of foster care.

Guardian ad Litems are trained volunteers who devote their time and energy to accurately determine the child’s interests and desires during the court process. The children are in the system because officials consider them neglected or abused.

“Not often is the child asked during the course of the case what they want,” said Kevin Woodall, circuit coordinator of the GAL Program for York and Union counties. Woodall has been involved with the GAL program since August 2011.

“We have a two-prong objective. The first is to represent the abused or neglected child and communicate to the court what the child’s desires are. The other prong is to communicate what is in the best interest to the child,” Woodall said. “These prongs are not always congruent with each other.”

Woodall said part of a Guardian ad Litem’s job is to discern whether the child’s wants and desires would be beneficial and that they are quick to open up to GALs.

“The children are happy to have someone that cares about their situation,” he said.

GALs often bring a fresh perspective to the legal process, according to Woodall, who said the “outside set of eyes” brings new insight to a case.

Truman Smith, a student at Charlotte School of Law, has been a part of the York County program for over a year. He was introduced to the program through North Rock Hill Church and has been a Guardian ad Litem to 14 children.

Smith said he has experienced a wide range of emotions while volunteering in the program.

“It can be both frustrating and rewarding,” Smith said.

“It can be very rewarding when you see a parent is doing everything they can with what they have in order to make the situation better for their children. It can also be frustrating when you see that parents aren’t doing what they need to do and are continuing to make the same bad choices over and over.”

As a full-time law student and Guardian ad Litem, Smith said maintaining an organized schedule helps him stay on task while working on cases.

“At times it can be hard to make sure everything gets done. Writing everything down helps me to stay on top of things,” Smith said.

Guardian ad Litems are required to complete 30 hours of free training and must be willing to dedicate four to six hours a month to their child.

There are about 130 GALs volunteering between York and Union counties.

“We seek people who can be child focused, have a clean record, and have a desire to help children,” Woodall said. “Our goal is to see each child placed in a safe, permanent home as quickly as possible,”

Those interested in the April 30 training can call 327-9997 or sign up at York.scgal.org.