By Amanda Hatfield Anderson
BREVARD -- Did you know that more than 30 percent of the abused and neglected children in the Brevard County Court system do not have a volunteer guardian in their corner?
A local program is asking Space Coast residents for help to make sure these children have a responsible, compassionate adult to rely on.
Registration is currently under way for volunteers to become a part of the Guardian Ad Litem program, where they will serve as child advocates.
Training for these volunteers will be hosted at the Moore Justice Center in Viera on Saturday, March 15.
"The Guardian Ad Litem program has been active in the state of Florida since 1980, and the local program was started in Brevard County several years later," said Amber Olesen, volunteer recruiter for the Brevard County Guardian Ad Litem program.
A phrase, meaning "guardian for the case," Guardian Ad Litems do not serve as foster parents, legal guardians or anyone expected to provide a home for the child. Rather, these Guardians serve as volunteers for child victims, who find information, investigate, and make recommendations and reports based on the child's interests.
"We currently have about 240 volunteers, who help more than 600 children in Brevard County," Mrs. Olesen said. "We have to turn away cases because we do not have more volunteers."
Mrs. Olesen added that the Guardian Ad Litem program hopes to add enough volunteers to assist 100 more children at any given time.
In order to become a Guardian Ad Litem, the program requires volunteers to be at least 21 years old, complete a Level Two background screening, return an application and complete an interview before taking the 30 hour training class.
"It's also helpful to be a kind and compassionate person," Mrs. Olesen added.
During the 30-hour training course, future Guardian Ad Litems learn the basics of how to be a Guardian, including child abuse, domestic violence, substance abuse, cultural competency, child development and what to look for, as well as how to navigate the court system and how to write reports for the courts.
"We have our traditional trainings every other month," Mrs. Olesen said. "We have recently started a pilot program, dubbed 'Mixed Mode Training,' and we are hoping to conduct that in the off-months."
The pilot program is geared toward the person, who needs more flexible hours, and can be independent in his or her learning.
However, Mrs. Olesen added that the "Mixed Mode Training" has not yet been completely set in stone.
In addition to the upcoming 30-hour training course, the Brevard County Guardian Ad Litem program will also host its "Mix and Mingle" event on Monday, March 10 from 5 to 7 p.m. at City Tropics in Indialantic.
"Prospective volunteers are welcome to come and meet other volunteers and ask questions," Mrs. Olesen said. "It's a low-pressure way to scope out the experience and community of our group."
With a firm belief that the Guardian Ad Litem Program provides a very hands-on experience for its volunteers, while actively changing a child's life, Mrs. Olesen said the program's volunteers feel a great sense of pride in their work.
"Whole families are impacted greatly when a child enters Dependency Court, and it is the children who suffer," she said. "This is our community and a way to change the future. Our volunteers are fully supported by our staff, the Guardian Attorneys and the Child Advocate Coordinators, and we provide each new volunteer with a mentor, so they are never on their own, unless they want to be."
The Guardian Ad Litem training program is Saturday, March 15 at the Moore Justice Center in Viera.
For more information or to register to become a volunteer, visit www.BrevardCounty.us/GuardianAdLitem/BecomeVolunteer or contact Amber Olesen at firstname.lastname@example.org.