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 needs your help now, more than ever, 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 July 7 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and July 8 from 6 to 9 p.m.
New to the program is what organizers call a "Mixed Mode" of training, where instead of 30 hours of classroom training, the Guardian Ad Litem program will now give volunteers an option to complete part of their training from home by using online links to videos and readings.
The online portion of the program will be supplemented by 12 hours of class time, followed by a pairing with a mentor to complete field work tasks.
"The 'Mixed Mode' training allows people to do some of their work online, then meet fellow guardians during their 12 hours of class time," said Amber Olesen, volunteer recruiter for the Brevard County Guardian Ad Litem program. "We are finding that this type of class better prepares our future guardians because there is a real-world aspect right off the bat, and they are well-supported."
Mrs. Olesen added that the Guardian Ad Litem program will offer the "Mixed Mode" classes every other training session, and if it continues to work, organizers may consider hosting the new style of training even more frequently.
The Guardian Ad Litem program has been active in the state of Florida since 1980. Translating to "guardian for the case," a Guardian Ad Litem does not serve as a foster parent, legal guardian or someone expected to provide a home for the child.
Rather, the guardian serves as a volunteer for the child victim, who finds information, investigates and makes recommendations and reports based on the child's interests.
In order to become a Guardian Ad Litem, the program requires the volunteer to be at least 21 years old, complete a Level Two background screening, return an application and complete an interview, prior to taking the training course.
"It's also helpful to be a compassionate and kind person," Mrs. Olesen added.
During the 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.
"Our online training is received by the trainee after he or she interviews," Mrs. Olesen said. "Many of the readings and videos come from Florida's Center for Child Welfare and cover topics such as child development and the impact of abuse and the effects of substance abuse and children."
While face-to-face in class, Mrs. Olesen said the program will cover cultural competency, legal matters, report writing and more.
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 program's "Mixed Mode" training is available online, with classes meeting face-to-face on Monday, July 7 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Tuesday, July 8 from 6 to 9 p.m.
Deadline to apply and interview must be completed by Friday, June 27.
The Guardian Ad Litem program will also offer its traditional training in September, with the Mixed Mode being offered again in November.
For more information or to register to become a volunteer, visit www.BrevardCounty.us/GuardianAdLitem/BecomeVolunteer or contact Amber Olesen at Amber.Olesen@BrevardCounty.us.