Crime Watch

Guardian ad Litem volunteers make a difference in children’s lives

 

Special to the Miami Herald

T oday I want to share some information about a terrific organization that over the years has truly made a difference to thousands of children in our community. It’s a program that I have supported, and since all these issues with the Florida Department of Children & Families and abused children are happening in our community, I decided to speak to my friend Patricia Abaroa, volunteer and recruitment coordinator, to give us some insight into the Guardian ad Litem Program.

Thank you, Patricia, for the information below. I hope it will encourage many to become a part of the solution.

The Guardian ad Litem Program, a volunteer-based organization, advocates for the best interests of our communities’ most vulnerable population: children who have been abused, abandoned and neglected. These children, through no fault of their own, become part of an overburdened dependency system. Guardians ad Litem ensure that these children are never left unseen or unheard, and that their best interests are always front and center in the courtroom.

In Miami-Dade County alone, there are well over 4,000 children involved in dependency court proceedings. These children are the unfortunate victims of sexual abuse, physical abuse, neglect, abandonment, drug-addicted parents or domestic violence.

While the Guardian ad Litem program strives to represent 100 percent of the children in care, the program represents just over 60 percent of these children. More volunteers would help meet this goal, and provide all children in care with a compassionate adult to stand by their side during a difficult time in their young lives.

Guardian ad Litem volunteers come from all walks of life, and offer their own insight and experiences into each case. Volunteers must pass a background screening and complete a training course that includes classes on dependency law, communicating with children and families, and cultural competency, among others.

With the help of a Child Advocacy Coordinator (a staff member who oversees the case and guides the volunteer) and a Child’s Best Interest Attorney, the volunteer becomes part of a team that shares one belief: The child’s best interest is our only interest.

Volunteers are responsible for visiting on a monthly basis. Through these visits, volunteers develop a relationship with the children they advocate for and ensure that these children’s needs are being met, that appropriate services are in place and that these children have as much normalcy in their lives as possible.

Other duties include writing reports, communicating with case managers and attending court hearings to make recommendations to the judge concerning the child’s social, physical, emotional, educational and legal status.

Statistics show that with a Guardian ad Litem volunteer by their side, children are half as likely to languish in foster care, and twice as likely to find a safe, permanent and loving home in which they can thrive. Guardians profoundly impact the lives of the children they serve, and vice versa.

For more information, visit www.WeAreGuardians.org or call 786-469-3864.

Last week’s article brought in lots of emails regarding scams, and I was sent a few more that I will share with you soon. The last is related to AT&T, so if you get a call, please hang up — it’s a scam.

Carmen Caldwell is executive director of Citizens’ Crime Watch of Miami-Dade. Send feedback and news for this column by email to carmen@citizenscrimewatch.org, or call her at 305-470-1670.

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