Volusia Magazine recently interviewed Polly Peyer, a veteran Guardian ad Litem (GAL) and the Co-chair to the Volunteer Advisory Committee, for the 7th Judicial Circuit.
Joanne Magley talks with Polly about what makes our Guardians so special. Polly and Joanne also discuss aspects of a becoming a GAL, including the training available and the responsibilities and rewards associated with this important volunteer program.
A volunteer Guardian ad Litem (GAL) helps support the system with dedicated activism as the figurative… “voice for the child“.
If you would like to become a GAL, please contact us at one of the locations nearest you!
What is a VOLUNTEER ADVOCATE – A volunteer Guardian ad Litem is an individual, like you, who will be specially trained and appointed by the Court to advocate for children who have been brought into the social service/legal system, as a result of being removed from their home for being abused and neglected, or an abandonment.
As a trained, qualified and certified GAL you will be assigned a specific child(ren) and help insure, when brought under the Judicial Circuit 7 jurisdiction for dependency, that they are living in a safe environment and their well-being and best interests are being preserved, until a permanent home placement can be re-established. The real life circumstance may involve helping to establishing reunification with parents, consideration of a different permanent placement with a relative or family friend or even an adoption proceeding and life with a new family.
A Judge will make final decisions, but you will play a large part in the process and eventual conclusion of the case by giving moral support to the child and keeping them informed and presenting fact based information and recommendations to the Court of your viewpoint as to what serves as the best interest of the child.
After your initial pre-service training you will begin working autonomously within a GAL team, comprised of GAL program staff managers and attorneys and alongside community-based social workers and community service providers. You will meet with medical providers, staff from state services, teachers and day care providers and make inquiries and investigations involving your assigned child. You will further assist the child navigate the foster/relative care system so you will be able to adequately inform the Judge of developments in the child’s life and assist in his decisions making.
Training & Support
The Circuit 7 Florida Guardian ad Litem Program will provide you direct support, guidance and coaching; by a staff position GAL Child Advocate Manager (CAM). Court preparation and case filings will be managed by a Child’s Best Interest (CBI) GAL staff attorney and a direct peer support person, called called a GAL Mentor. This experienced volunteer will be available to help guide you throughout the process, particularly during the initial stages. Everyone will be working together with you, within the GAL program’s team model approach of advocacy as stated in the GAL Program’s Standards. [click to view or download and save the entire manual in a new screen]
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What are the qualifications needed to advocate for a child?
If you are concerned for the well-being of children and have continuing commitment to advocate for a child until a safe and permanent home is obtained — you will be an effective volunteer Guardian ad Litem.
If you are objective and nonjudgmental and are able to interact with people of various educational, economic and ethnic backgrounds… you can become an effective volunteer Guardian ad Litem.
How much time must I commit as a volunteer Guardian ad Litem?
A volunteer Guardian ad Litem must successfully complete 30 hours of “certification training” and 12 hours annually of re-certification training, and should be committed to spend an average of 10-12 hours per month depending on the individual case and children assigned [at least one visit with the child, is required every month].
What are Volunteer Guardian ad Litem responsibilities?
- A GAL carries out an objective and systematic examination of the entire situation involving the assigned child; including review of relevant history, living environment, relationships, and needs of the child. The GAL is authorized to interviews family, friends, neighbors, the child’s teacher, medical providers, state workers, in short anyone who touches the life of the child in your charge.
- A GAL visits the child and keeps the child informed of the court process and proceedings.
- A GAL gathers and assesses independent information, on a routine basis, about the child in order to “recommend” a resolution that serves in the child’s best interest.
- A GAL helps determine if appropriate services are being provided to the child.
- A GAL prepares and submits written reports for the court with recommendations as to the present placement, actions on the visitation plan, services for the child, and the eventual permanent placement goals and plan that are in the best interest of the child.
- A GAL attends and participates in court hearings and other related meetings to advocate for a permanent plan, which serves the child’s best interest.
- A GAL maintains complete records about the case, including scheduled appointments, interviews conducted, and other information gathered about the child and the child’s life circumstances.
“Advocating for the child’s best interest… is our only interest!“