With more than 1,150 children in the foster care dependency system in Clay, Duval and Nassau counties, volunteers are needed to serve the children and their foster caregivers.
Guardians ad Litem serve as advocates for children in court. Their job is to be a voice for abused, abandoned and neglected children, separate from family members, foster caregivers, attorneys and social workers.
Currently, 690 children are paired with a volunteer, said Vanessa Trivento, director of the Guardian ad Litem program for the 4th Judicial Circuit.
A recruitment campaign, “Each One Reach One,” began Nov. 25 with the goal to grow the roster of advocates.
“We’re asking our current volunteers to reach out to one person and share their experience and recruit about 250 volunteers,” Trivento said.
Attorney Alan Pickert, a partner at the Terrell Hogan law firm who represents clients with personal injury claims, recently helped two children be adopted after they were removed from an unhealthy family situation.
“It’s the best thing I’ve done this year,” Pickert said.
Recruited as a Guardian ad Litem about three years ago by Circuit Judge David Gooding, Pickert said it’s easy to become a volunteer and the commitment is small, compared to the benefit for the children.
“It doesn’t take a lot of time. It can be as little as two hours a month up to as much as you want,” Pickert said.
To qualify, candidates must be at least 21 years old and pass a background check, Trivento said.
“That’s it, other than having a heart for kids,” she said.
New volunteers receive 30 hours of training, conducted virtually because of COVID-19. They learn about the child welfare system and the courts and work with a child advocate on staff who accompanies the trainee to a home visit and a court hearing.
Pickert said he worked with the children and their adoptive mother, a single woman in her 50s, for about 10 months.
“I watched those children blossom. Now they have a chance for a successful future,” Pickert said.
Visit galfirstcoast.org to learn more about the program.
For more information about volunteering with Guardian ad Litem, contact Samari Franco, [email protected] or (904) 255-8349 or Grant Jones, [email protected] or (904) 535-7152.