Guardian ad Litem program needs double the volunteers

Abused, neglected children seek volunteer advocates in court

By Kevin Spradlin
PeeDeePost.com

Keri Standridge loves her job and showing up to work each day.

The 35-year-old thoroughly enjoy the people with whom she works in Richmond and Anson counties. As supervisor for the district’s Guardian ad Litem program, Standridge helps recruit, train and manage 20 adult volunteers who log an average of eight hours a month to advocate on a child’s behalf in a court of law. The work includes visits to the child’s foster home or temporary shelter, writing reports and, above all, acting in the child’s best interests whenever the parents are not in the position to do so.

Submitted image

Submitted image

But there’s a problem. Standridge has 20 volunteers, including 16 in Richmond County. She needs 40 of them.

“Typically you want a volunteer to carry a couple of cases,” Standridge said during a recent interview with The Pee Dee Post during what Gov. Pat McCrory has proclaimed as North Carolina Guardian ad Litem Child Advocate Month. “I have some volunteers that’ll carry four cases, then I’ll cover maybe 20 cases.”

There is a risk, though, to putting too much pressure on volunteers.

“I don’t want to burn my volunteers out,” Standridge said.

An average case lasts a year, though much more work is required in the beginning.

“I want somebody to work a case and, optimally, take a couple months’ break. I just don’t have that pool” of volunteers to allow it. “My volunteers are great. They say, ‘yes, I’ll do it.'”

But that acquiescence comes at a potential cost. There are some volunteers who have been on the list for 20 years or more — the program has been in North Carolina for 32 years — but haven’t taken a case in quite a while. There are a variety of reasons why a volunteer would choose to take a break or step down altogether — the burden of a particular case, for one, or changes that inevitably occur over time in a volunteer’s personal life.

The children need the help of volunteers, Standridge said. They benefit from simply being exposed to the type of people the volunteers generally are.

“It’s amazing to me … what my folks will do just out of the goodness of their heart,” Standridge said. “They’re driving here and there and everywhere to see these kids … it’s just amazing to me that they do that. They don’t get paid. There’s no money out there.”

This is done all in less than ideal circumstances, Standridge noted. A top problem in Richmond County is homes with adults working through substance abuse issues. Other key issues include domestic violence and “sometimes we have true, physical abuse” and, to a lesser extent, sexual abuse.

“Substance abuse … (is) very prevalent in this county,” she said.

Training

Preparing a new group of Guardian ad Litem volunteers takes about six weeks. The time required totals 30 hours, with one part online and one part classroom work. Standridge meets with potential volunteers for three hours a night once a week for six weeks. The rest is over the Internet.

There is also a background check, interview, screening and potential volunteers observe court. If all is completed in a satisfactory and successful manner, the volunteer is sworn in by a judge. Standridge does not, at that point, disappear from the volunteer’s life.

“I am very much right beside them,” Standridge said, “especially on their first case, the first (home) visit, the first court report … come in the office and we’ll sit down and do it together.”

Eventually, though, the training wheels come off. Though Standridge and Guardian ad Litem attorney Melanie Carroll always are available to assist, much of the volunteer’s experience is an independent one.

“”The more comfortable you get, the more I’ll back off,” Standridge said, but she remains “very accessible to them.”

Program goals

The goal of each Guardian ad Litem program is to reunite a child with their family. Standridge said research shows a child does best when place within his or her family — but only if it’s in the best interests of the child.

“Parents are a child’s best advocate,” she said, “but when they can’t do that, that’s where Guardian ad Litem comes into play.”

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Standridge’s office is located on the fourth floor of the Richmond County Judicial Center, at the corner of East Franklin and South Lee streets. She can be reached by phone at 910-419-7600 or by email at keri.r.standridge@nccourts.org.

 

 

 

 

Filed in: Ellerbe/Norman, Featured News, Hamlet, Hoffman, Latest Headlines, News, Public safety, Rockingham

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