Wildfires are devastating communities across California, causing more than 300,000 people to evacuate their homes and threatening many more. The Camp Fire in Northern California -- one of three blazing across the state -- is the most destructive in state history. We want to ensure that, if you are in an affected community, you find access to shelter. And if you are looking to help with disaster relief efforts, you know the most effective ways to contribute.
A Court Appointed Special Advocate or "CASA", is also known as a "Guardian ad Litem" in many states including Florida. A Guardian ad Litem is a volunteer appointed by the judiciary system to advocate for a child embroiled in the Dependency court system. Most of these children have been removed from their homes because of alleged abuse, abandonment or neglect.
The volunteer advocates for the child's best interest. While cases vary in complexity, most cases require approximately 10 to 12 volunteer hours per month, with a little more time in the beginning.
In Palm Beach County, there are approximately 1700 children in the system at this time. Many of them come to the attention of the Department of Children and Families (DCF) due to:
exposure to domestic violence or substance abuse by their parents
severe neglect (often due to parents' drug abuse or mental illness)
The Guardian ad Litem program is a state-supported program consisting primarily of trained volunteers who give generously of their time to advocate for these vulnerable children in the dependency court system. Without a Guardian, the children themselves have no voice in the system regarding what will happen to them. Our volunteer Guardians do four main things:
Investigate the entire situation with an intense focus on what the child needs in order to live a productive life
Advocate for services for the child, both with DCF and the overall community
Report to the Judge via written reports and testimony
Monitor the progress of the case with a constant effort to move it towards permanency for the child.
As Investigators, the Guardians:
Review all the court documents
Speak with everyone involved in the case (parents, teachers, doctors, therapists and most importantly the CHILD).
Are often the first and only person who asks the child what THEY want to happen and what they need.
Try to get a good common-sense picture of what happened to bring the child into the system,
Recommend what needs to happen to fix the situation so the child can:
be reunified safely with their parents OR
find another permanent living arrangement, hopefully with a relative.
As Advocates, the Guardians:
push the system to provide what the child needs based on their continual investigation
work closely with the DCF case managers, various attorneys, and outside resources like the school district.
work to meet the ultimate goal of getting the child into a permanent situation as quickly and safely as possible.
For the reporting aspect of the role, Guardians:
write reports to the Judge at least several times each year
testify in court about how the child is doing and what they need.
For the Monitoring part of the role, Guardians:
track the deadlines for actions ordered by the court and take action if deadlines are missed
push to shorten the length of time the child is in a non-permanent setting
No special legal skills or other background are needed - just good common sense and a desire to help abused and neglected children. Guardians are rewarded by knowing they've made a difference in each of the cases they've handled. Guardians make sure these children have a voice and a say in their future, and do whatever they can to make their lives better from this point forward.
To obtain more information, you can log onto the state Guardian ad Litem website at www.guardianadlitem.org or call 561-355-2773 in Palm Beach County or 954-831-6214 in Broward or 772-785-5804 in Martin County. Make a lasting difference in the life of a child: Become a Guardian!