Guardian Ad Litem is a program that serves children that have been removed from a home and placed into the protection of the state. A key goal of the program is to unite each child with a volunteer whose goals are to bond and serve as a voice for the child during their transitions.
Larnelle Scott, current community outreach coordinator and recruiter for the program shed light on the ratio of volunteers to children.
“There are currently over 31,000 children in Florida’s foster care system,” Scott said. “The statewide Guardian Ad Litem program has more than 10,000 volunteer child advocates, we do not have enough for every child who needs one.”
Among the current volunteers, there is a shortage of young male volunteers who are Black or Hispanic and can relate to the generation of children in the system.
GAL’s statewide Director of Program Advocacy and Inclusion Calvin Martin shared his thoughts on the impact that minority volunteers would bring to the program.
“Having more familiar faces that go into the home and say, ‘I get it; I understand where you’re coming from; I was born here,’ makes it easier to educate an entire community. This way, we can create a process where we potentially can stop the cycle of abuse,” Martin said.
Angela Dawkins, a current student at Tallahassee Community College, shed light on the impact that a volunteer of the same race had on her transition throughout foster care.
“My best mentor who was of Afro-descent really understood me. I think it is harder to open up to someone from a different background because they may not relate to the barriers you face,” Dawkins said. “My first mentor was white and did not understand my struggle internally. I constantly thought they’re just here to feel sorry for me.”
The program is also adjusting to the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Current volunteer Paula Millen shed light on the effects the pandemic has on volunteers.
“The presence of COVID with all of its restrictions has negatively impacted volunteers who are older. This might be because many of our volunteers are retirees and may have underlying conditions.”
However, the current pandemic has not stopped volunteer and child interaction as the program has shifted to online and mobile methods of communication using outlets like Zoom and text messaging to connect.
“Although the COVID-19 pandemic has created conditions for a potential rise in child abuse and neglect, our need for new volunteer child advocates has not changed,” Martin said.
A common misconception is that the program requires a lot of work and dedication that the average person cannot provide.
Eligible volunteers just need to be at least 21 years of age, (adults 18 and 21 years are eligible to volunteer alongside a current volunteer), successfully complete the pre-service training program provided by GAL, and be cleared of any serious criminal history passing a level II criminal background check. Volunteers are only required to spend five to ten hours a month with their child showing the flexibility of the program.
“My mission is to make Guardian Ad Litem a household name. Each one with one is my mission until the job is done” Scott said.
Potential volunteers can sign up at guardianadlitem.org. Updates about the program can be found on Facebook at FLGuardianadLitemforChildren and on Instagram @flguardianadlitem.