Community members often feel like their hands are tied when they hear cases of abused and neglected children, but a program in Stokes County gives volunteers an opportunity to serve as advocates for these children.
Stokes County is desperately in need of Guardian ad Litem volunteer advocates. These are trained community members appointed by a district court judge to investigate and determine the needs of children and youth who have been removed from the home by the Department of Social Services due to reported abuse or neglect. The Guardian ad Litem is paired with an attorney to represent the child’s best interest in court.
“There are many children in our own community that need this help,” remarked Jaime Kehoe, program supervisor for Stokes County.
There are currently 64 children being represented by the Stokes County Guardian ad Litem Program, according to Kehoe. The state-sponsored program is always in need of new volunteers to take on these cases. The number of cases that come in each month varies. Kehoe said there were nine petitions for a child in September. Another month there were 13. Sometimes there are sibling groups.
Free training is provided to volunteers, and Kehoe said the training schedules are flexible. No special education or experience is required for someone to qualify for the program. Applicants to the program do undergo an interview process and background checks.
The approved volunteer must complete a thorough 26- to 30-hour training program and be sworn in before being assigned a case. An independent study option is also available. Once assigned a case, most unpaid advocates spend four hours per month on a child’s case, Kehoe said.
The Guardian ad Litem serves as an investigator, interviewing people and collecting records on behalf of a child. The Guardian ad Litem then presents that information and recommendations to the court to help the judge determine what is in the best interest of the child as far as finding a safe and permanent home as soon as possible. The Guardian ad Litem is not a legal guardian and is not expected to provide a home for the child.
For more information about the program and how to get involved in Stokes County, call 336-593-4415. More information can be found online at www.ncgal.org.