child advocates – The Defuniak Herald & Beach Breeze

LOOKING FOR VOLUNTEERS: CARITA SMITH, Community Outreach Coordinator, Jan Medellin Gomez and Charles Vocelle, Best Interests of the Child Advocate.

Story by ADRIANNE WALLINE CAMPBELL

The Florida Guardian ad Litem for Okaloosa and Walton County is in desperate need of volunteers. They currently have 26 and should ideally have 131. Carita Smith, Community Outreach Coordinator, explained that they are the ones who assist children who find themselves in a traumatic situation due to various problems. The volunteer would visit the house at least once a month to see what kind of situation is going on. They also go to court with the child if the situation warrants it. A current volunteer has a full-time job and still finds the time to get involved. Some of the children are in abusive situations, some parents have drug problems and seem unable to be the parent they should be. Parents usually have three chances, including parenting classes to try to improve. Unfortunately, many lose the privilege of raising their children and the state takes over.

Guardians ad litem are lawyers acting only in the best interests of the children. They observe the courts, helping the judge to make the best possible decisions for the good of the child. They also ensure that children are not neglected or ignored by the system and fight for their basic rights and basic needs. It is their belief that every child has the right to be treated with dignity, to be safe and to thrive in the security of a loving family. The guardian writes a report to the court indicating what the child needs and what is in his best interests.

Training is offered to people who wish to volunteer, although no compensation is available. The need is great for those who are dedicated and passionate about children. They have an appreciation ceremony though!

Smith notes, “Although this office is in constant need of volunteers, we accept 100% of cases. We work diligently together; the volunteer children’s advocate, the case manager; and best interest lawyer.

If volunteering is not an option, donations are gladly accepted. For more information, visit their website: https://www.nwfgal.org/index.php

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