GAL is a reliable support system for children
by Maggie Diebolt
In the midst of being shuffled between schools and foster homes, finding a reliable support system can be difficult for foster children living in South Carolina. To ease these transitions, the South Carolina Guardian ad Litem (GAL) program provides court-appointed advocates who represent the best interests of children in foster care placement.
GAL volunteers help abused children find safe, permanent and loving homes as quickly as possible by assessing resources for a child’s mental or physical health and learning needs, and by acting as consistent advocates for the children in and outside of court.
A 13-year MUSC veteran, Patricia Condon, R.N., has been a volunteer GAL since 2003. Having “no legal background whatsoever” but armed with the motivation to help children in need, Condon learned practical information about legal proceedings; how to communicate with families; and how to present herself in court through GAL training sessions.
Virtually anyone 21 years old and older who has an interest in children, and the time and desire to serve, can become a GAL. Volunteers are recruited, trained and supervised to support the best interests of children in family court proceedings involving allegations of abuse or neglect. Much of the GALs’ time toward the case is spent outside the court room. GALs are allowed access to all records pertaining to the child(ren), and can visit foster homes and interview family members to investigate allegations and the home situation with the help of the Department of Social Services (DSS). Volunteers must be willing to commit at least six to eight hours a month during a year of service to the program.
Despite a full-time work schedule, Condon is able to schedule most GAL-related meetings on the weekends, and she has her supervisor’s support for the times when her GAL responsibilities require her to make phone calls, attend court or visit a child in school during office hours.
In her role as a GAL, Condon realizes the positive impact she can have on children in crisis. “When you get involved, you see how complex DSS and the court system are,” Condon said. “You know you’re the one representing the kids. You have no other agenda than the best interests of the children. You feel like you are really speaking for people who can’t speak for themselves.”
GALs are constantly in need, and volunteers from all cultures, professions, and educational backgrounds are encouraged to become involved.
For those interested in learning more about GAL, an informational question and answer session will take place from 6 to 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 29 in Room 100 of the Basic Science Building. Volunteers will share their stories and answer questions about the challenges and rewards of being a GAL. The next GAL training will begin Oct. 6. For more information, contact Charlene Gadsden at 958-4350, or 958-4355.
Top 10 reasons to be a GAL
(reasons were compiled based on responses from actual GALs)
10. You give hope to children by helping them find safety and love in permanent homes.
9. You are a positive effective advocate for a child.
8. You have a great support staff available to help you.
7. You will make a difference in a child’s life.
6. You can take action against child abuse.
5. You can meet other volunteers.
4. You empower children to thrive and grow.
3. You spend time with a child: It keeps you young.
2. It's fun.
1. Best of all: The pay is wonderful: You make a child smile.
Friday, Sept. 19, 2008