Yadkin County is on track to have a record year for child abuse and neglect cases, and local advocates are seeking the help of volunteers to make a difference in these children’s lives through the longstanding N.C. Guardian ad Litem Program.
Guardians ad litem are trained community volunteers who visit a child once per month and report back to the judge who oversees the determination of the child’s foster care placement or custody with his or her parents. Each child also has a legal representative in addition to the guardian ad litem volunteer. The program is mandated in state statute to provide for this community member role.
“The whole point is to be the judge’s eyes and ears as they go through this process,” said Catharine Davidson, Director of the Yadkin County Guardian Ad Litum Program. “Hopefully, the parents can work to change their lives and make a stable home for the children. But if they don’t, we work with social workers to identify and recognize family members who can care for the children and sometimes they end up being adopted into a new family.”
During 2020, Yadkin County had 67 children who were victims of home-based child abuse or neglect who needed guardian ad litem advocates, Davidson said. So far this year, the county already has 81 children in foster care who qualify and she expects that number to grow as most children head back to in-person classes at school, where staff often recognize potential cases of abuse or neglect.
Guardians ad litem do not provide any direct service to children other than to be concerned for their well-being and to advocate for their best interests. This may involve periodic emails, phone calls or discussions with child’s daycare, school, therapist or social worker. Home visits with children are currently virtual due to the pandemic but are expected to transition soon back to in-person, based on each volunteer’s comfort level. Typical volunteer hours for a month are 4 to 8 hours.
“This is the most significant volunteer work you’ll ever do for the least amount of time involved,” Davidson said.
She said the county needs many more volunteers due to the influx of cases. Davidson herself is currently in charge of monitoring about 30 cases. It’s impossible for her to conduct 30 home visits per month, she said.
“A lot of our volunteers are working moms. Some counties have a lot of retirees, but a whole lot of our volunteers are working moms or single working people and they just have a heart for children.”
Two upcoming virtual information sessions are scheduled April 13 and April 14 and will include current volunteers describing their experiences and answering questions. Program staff will also detail the training required to get started.