Guardian ad Litem celebrates 35th anniversary in NC

Staff Report

Governor Roy Cooper signed a proclamation declaring April was Guardian ad Litem Child Advocate Month. Court officials also announced that North Carolina Judicial Branch is celebrating the 35th anniversary of the Guardian ad Litem Program in 2018.

“We are honored to celebrate the Guardian ad Litem Program in Yadkin County throughout this year and thank our citizens for volunteering,” said Chief District Court Judge David V. Byrd. “Our system of justice could not operate as it was intended without our volunteer Guardians ad Litem.”

Locally, the Guardian ad Litem Child Advocates were given an appreciation event on April 20 for the entire 23rd Judicial District. This judicial district includes Alleghany, Ashe, Wilkes and Yadkin counties.

GAL advocates from all four counties were honored with a luncheon at Shatley Springs Inn and Restaurant in Ashe County. This luncheon and other special gifts were provided and sponsored by local businesses and individuals from within the four county district. Special thank you to the following: Wilkes Office Supplies, WIFM Radio and Gary York, Arnold and Becky Lakey, Walmart of Wilkesboro, Food Lion of Yadkinville, Shatley Springs Inn and Restaurant, Third Day Market, Ashe County Cheese, McB’s Mercantile, It Is Well, Martha Mae’s Emporium, and Pam Neese Mary Kay Consultant.

District Court Judge William F. Brooks spoke to the GAL advocates on behalf of the entire district court judges regarding their appreciation for all the advocates’ time and energy donated to the children they serve who are currently in foster care in the four counties.

“We heavily rely on the GAL Advocates regarding their advocacy for the children’s best interest and wishes,“ said Brooks. “We greatly appreciate all the hours each GAL Advocate donates to ensure that these children do not fall through the cracks of the foster care system.”

Also present for the appreciation event were Cindy Bizzell, GAL state administrator for the entire GAL program; Christina Harrison, assistant administrator for the state GAL program, and Regional Administrator Cy Gurney for the Central Region of the GAL program.

Bizzell told advocates, “We have one of the strongest court appointed special advocate programs in the country. The work of our volunteer GALs helps the court make the best decision possible in the lives of vulnerable North Carolina children. We thank each one of you for all you do for the children of 23rd Judicial District.”

Established by statute in 1983, the North Carolina Guardian ad Litem Program has been serving abused and neglected children for 35 years. Pursuant to North Carolina General Statute §7B-601, when a petition alleging abuse or neglect of a juvenile is filed in district court, the judge appoints a volunteer Guardian ad Litem advocate and an attorney advocate to provide team representation to the child, who has full party status in trial and appellate proceedings.

All Guardian ad Litem advocates are trained, supervised, and supported by program staff in each county of the state. The collaborative model of GAL attorney advocates, volunteers, and staff ensures that all North Carolina children who are alleged by the Division of Social Services to have been abused or neglected receive GAL legal advocacy services.

The Guardian ad Litem Program began in the 23rd Judicial District, which includes Yadkin County, in 1994. This was one of the final two districts to have the GAL Program and therefore making it an official “state-wide” program.

North Carolina Guardian ad Litem equips and trains community volunteers to serve as independent court advocates to represent and promote the best interests of abused and neglected children and youths by advocating for their best interests. The Office of Guardian ad Litem (GAL) Services is a division of the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts.

Pursuant to G.S. 7B-601, when a petition alleging abuse or neglect of a juvenile is filed in district court, the judge appoints a volunteer Guardian ad Litem advocate and an attorney advocate to provide team representation to the child, who has full party status in trial and appellate proceedings.

In 2017, more than 2,400 abused and neglected children and youth in North Carolina went to court without someone to advocate just for them.

There are 82 Guardian ad Litem child advocates in the four counties representing more than half of the 355 children involved with the court due to child abuse and neglect. Of that number, 82 volunteers are serving 191 children, the remaining 164 children do not have a child advocate to represent their best interest.

“We still need many more citizens to step up and help the children of our community to achieve a safe, permanent home as soon as possible. If you are concerned about these children and the foster care system, then this is the best way for you to help improve the system and the life of a child,” said GAL District Administrator Tamara Lakey. “You could make all the difference in a child’s life both now and forever! Please help us in helping children to make a change in their lives and a change in the future of our communities.”

For more information about possibly becoming a Guardian ad Litem child advocate, call 336-679-3671 or visit volunteerforgal.org. All interested volunteers must complete the required six-week training course prior to being sworn-in as GAL child advocates.

Two different training series will be offered during the summer months. The first one will be in June through July (morning sessions) and then a second one offered in August through September (evening sessions). Volunteers must complete an application online at the above mentioned website and all other required application process before being enrolled into the training course.

Staff Report