MANATEE — Volunteers have responded to Manatee County’s urgent plea for 100 new Guardians ad Litem to be the voice of children in crisis.
As of Thursday, more than 80 recruits have applied this week to become new guardians — known as GALS, said Nancy Sanders, chairwoman of the volunteer recruitment committee for the 12th Judicial Circuit’s Guardian ad Litem program.
A Herald story last Sunday explored the desperate need for GALS, as an all-time record 821 children were removed from their Manatee
County families in 2015 for their own safety, largely victims of the county’s heroin epidemic.
“We are extremely grateful to the public,” an emotional Sanders said Thursday. “I had a feeling that once they knew the need was there to speak for the children they would respond. And they have responded overwhelmingly.”
Most of the 80 new recruits are retired with professional backgrounds and about 75 percent are women, Sanders said.
“The recruits I have spoken to have incredible backgrounds and credentials,” Sanders added. “We have retired psychologists, educators, police officers. We have gotten calls from people from all over the country who have come down here to enjoy our sun and our sand, but now they are also ready to volunteer for the benefit of children.”
Manatee County has about 200 GALS, each of whom is assigned to one or two children. But because the explosion of new cases overwhelmed the system, paid 12th Judicial Circuit employees have had to step in and handle some of the need, which is not what they are trained to do, Sanders said.
Guardians meet with the children at least once a month to make sure their needs are being met.
The 80 new recruits will have to pass a thorough background check including fingerprinting and take training. They will also receive a GAL mentor and will be assigned to a 12th District Court staffer who will fill in information gaps.
At least 20 more GALS are needed, Sanders said.
“First they need to complete an application,” Sanders said. “That will be sent to them once they contact me or Guardians online at 12gal.org. They fill out the application, which also requires three references that they submit. Then they are scheduled for an interview. From the interview, they decide whether or not to go forward.”
If recruits are still interested after the interview, they will be scheduled for training.
Once recruits are trained and have their background checks completed, they meet with a 12th Judicial staffer to go through the list of children not represented or spoken for in court, and they can select a child with whom they would like to work, Sanders said.
GALS are of vital importance, said Vicki Shawvan, an administrative assistant for 12th Circuit Judge Scott M. Brownell.
“They are a separate set of eyes for the children,” Shawvan said.
Those interested in being GAL recruits are asked to call Sanders at 941-264-5234.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter@RichardDymond.