When abused, abandoned, or neglected children need an advocate, Guardian ad Litem (GAL) child advocates are there to help. These volunteers collaborate with an attorney and a child advocacy manager from the GAL Program to work with families, child protective agencies, and the courts to ensure the best interests of the affected children are served. The advocates visit the children monthly, attend periodic staffing meetings and court hearings, and help ensure that the children receive all the necessary services they need.
Jon White, a Saint Leo student working toward a Bachelor of Social Work degree at the Adult Education Center at the Pasco-Hernando State College (PHSC) location in New Port Richey, FL, is one such advocate. A Marine Corps veteran, he works for Veterans Affairs in the combat counseling center, but he also finds time to volunteer for the Guardian ad Litem program. White makes it a point to attend court hearings, explaining that “in court, I can speak directly to the judge.” White noted that his main goal is assessing each situation and recommending what is best for the children involved.
Dr. Marguerite McInnis, chair of Saint Leo’s Department of Social Work, first told White about the program. He agreed to get involved but did not expect it to be long term for him. However, two years later, he said that “Once you see what it’s all about, you find it therapeutic.” He observed, “You learn about yourself—you find out what is important to you. Nothing else points out what you have, what you take for granted, more profoundly than watching someone lose everything.”
Linda Poulette ’15, who earned her Bachelor of Social Work degree fromthe Adult Education Center PHSC location in Spring Hill, FL, is also a GAL child advocate. Helping others has always been a passion of hers, she explained. “I have seen so many unfortunate children in our community and in other countries, too. I thought, ‘What can one person do to help?’ Working through Guardian ad Litem, I can help those children. They deserve to be heard.”
Poulette assures the families she is working with that she is not a 9-to-5 person—she is a volunteer and is available to them as much as possible.
She appreciates that the GAL program offered her excellent training and continues to provide invaluable support. “It is an honor to be part of a team that strives to make a difference in the children who are abused, neglected, and abandoned. By being their voice, I strive to bring hope, happiness, love, and security, giving them a brighter future. My goal is to provide a road map, to educate the biological parents and keep the family together. However, sometimes this is not possible and the parents are not willing or ready to make that change.”
There are more than 900 abused, abandoned, and neglected children in the Pasco County dependency court system, so the Guardian ad Litem program is always in need of dedicated volunteers.
What advice do White and Poulette have for those interested becoming a GAL volunteer? “Children need you,” Poulette said. “And knowing that you help make a difference in an innocent child’s life will be the greatest reward you could receive. You can make a difference.”
“Just do it,” White added. “This is a good outlet for anyone who needs to give themselves a quiet purpose. Without Guardian ad Litem, things would not turn out well for a lot of kids.”