Rhoades Reports on Guardian ad Litem
Recently, "Dusty" Rhoades, a columnist, lawyer, and mystery writer, spoke to the League of Women Voters of Moore County about his experiences with the Guardian ad Litem (GAL) program.
He is an Attorney Advocate for GAL of Moore County -- that is, he represents children in abusive situations, neglect or without parental care (called dependency).
Seventeen thousand children in North Carolina were taken from their homes and were monitored by the court systems last year. The Department of Social Services works with the parents, the courts are involved, but who represents the child? This is where GAL comes in.
The GAL program was started in N.C. in 1983. The Guardian ad Litem is a lay person, a volunteer, appointed by the courts to represent the interests of the child involved. According to Rhoades, lay people "think out of the box." They investigate the care, talk to the concerned parties and speak with the attorney advocate for the best course of action for the child. He discussed some successful situations, without going into specific cases, although many cases seemed helpless at first. He stated that many of the parents involved were "never equipped to be good parents," had a bad childhood themselves, or have mental or substance abuse problems. The final goal is a safe, secure home for the child involved. There are many ways this is obtained; sometimes the parents are given solutions or counseling for their problems and sometimes turn their life around. As a last resort, parental rights have occasionally been terminated for the safety of the child.
According to Rhoades, there is not much recidivism in families where GAL has gotten involved. He felt that 80 or even 90 percent of the families involved were affected by substance abuse, including alcohol or drugs.
The Guardian ad Litem program can always use new volunteers. There was an audience question about length of time one volunteers -- per Rhoades, it may range from only one month to many years. There is also a Friends of GAL committee, collecting private donations for useful items, considered "non-essential" and normally not paid for. People interested in the program may call April at 947-4843.
Rhoades felt that the cuts in the state budget may negatively affect GAL and the whole justice system.
On a related note, three women were in the audience, representing a new group home for women, Second Chance Home of the Sandhills. The Home will serve women ages 18 to 64.
Clients of the home are referred from the Mental Health Department and are clean from drug usage. The goal of the group home is to help the women resume a normal life, such as help obtaining medication, finding a job and going to various support services, such as AA meetings.
For information on the Second Chance Home, people may call 215-0642.
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