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Home / Articles / Features / Feature Articles /  Become a Guardian Angel
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Monday, March 4,2013

Become a Guardian Angel

to Represent the Best Interest of the Child

By Cierra Robinson  
How´s your Resolution coming?

Were you trying to Lose weight!  Quit swearing!  Save money!  If you’re tired of these commonly broken new year’s resolutions how about responding to the Guardian ad Litem program of Palm Beach County’s call to action for all Palm Beach County residents—Resolution 2013.

Lose weight! Quit swearing! Save money! If you’re tired of these commonly broken new year’s resolutions, how about responding to the Guardian ad Litem (GAL) program of Palm Beach County’s call to action for all Palm Beach County residents—Resolution 2013.

“It takes a village to raise a child,” said Kristen Solomon, circuit director of the GAL program. “As of October 31, 2012, there are 1,508 children under court supervision in Palm Beach County (PBC). A GAL was appointed to 1,076 (71.35%); 425 (30%) children are without GALS.”

Because of the lack of GALs for the full population, Solomon and her recruiters put together the resolution to build awareness in the community for the needs of the children of PBC.

“Make a personal decision to speak up on behalf of a child that’s been abused, abandoned or neglected,” said Solomon. “I hope that the community says ‘you know what? It’s time we embrace these children and realize that they are our own and our responsibility to make sure they are safe and protected.”

A guardian essentially advocates for the child to insure that the child’s needs are met. A GAL must also commit to attending court on the child’s behalf, visiting with the child once a month minimum and staying abreast of all circumstances concerning the child’s welfare. A GAL normally oversees one or two children at a time. In rare cases, some GALs have had between seven and 21 children at a single time. These numbers would depend upon availability.

Mike Bayer, 51-year-old volunteer guardian of 12 years, said, “I always look at the position as a GAL as being another set of eyes for the court. You have the state-side agencies providing the services, and then you have the parents involved in the operation because they’ve had their kids removed. Everybody has a side.”

Bayer continues, “There’s really the kid who doesn’t have someone. Theoretically, the GAL floats above all this and is able to report, give assistance and provide additional things that aren’t necessarily being provided to the judge by the other parties. The GAL doesn’t provide a home, bed, or education but makes sure the parties that are supposed to provide these things do provide them. I’m the one who is supposed to make sure that it’s done, a guardian angel, if you will.”

If you are older than age 21 with none of the disqualifiers listed in the sidebar, a child needs you. Being a guardian takes no special education, huge amounts of money or ridiculous amounts of training, just a heart or as 70-year-old volunteer guardian of five years Ellen Kranzler puts it, “that feeling of, ‘I want to help.’ ” Like Kranzler, Bayer expresses a similar disposition. Bayer doesn’t have children of his own. Becoming a guardian has fulfilled that need in him and left a lifelong impression on 18-year-old Kyle Sweetman, who recently aged out of the system and views Bayer much like a grandfather.

“Without Mr. Mike I probably wouldn’t have made it. He told me how he was going to fix it, and he kept his promise,” said Sweetman. “I really commend Mr. Mike. He is an honorable person who goes out of his way for kids. When he wasn’t supposed to be at court, he was still there. He made things happen for me and helped me do a lot of things. Mr. Mike is really cool and is like a grandpa for me. He looked out for me; he even let me turn on his car once.”

So, maybe being a guardian seems too big a commitment, but you still want to give back. The program is always looking for volunteer recruiters to man the awareness tables at the public library and other special events. You may also like to do some office work or help fundraise for the programs nonprofit Speak Up! For Kids, which brings awareness to folks who would rather become donors than volunteer GALs. There is something for everyone!

Solomon is still optimistic even as the numbers of unrepresented children remain higher than desired. “I’m looking for 100 percent representation and my hope is that if PBC steps up, we can be there at this time next year,” he said.

Disqualifier side bar Links: www.galpbc.org,  www.speakupforkidspbc.org

 

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