The North Carolina Guardian ad Litem Program’s (NC GAL) 11th Judicial District recognized district volunteer citizen advocates and awarded the 2019 Melannie Taylor Gunter Guardian ad Litem of the Year award at a reception and training event on Monday, April 8th in Lillington, North Carolina. The 11th district covers Johnston, Harnett and Lee counties.
Twenty-four GAL Advocates, GAL Staff, and members of the GAL management team from the state office in Raleigh gathered for an exclusive screening of “Resilience – The Biology of Stress and the Science of Hope”, a documentary that explores the science of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE’s) and how the treatment and prevention of toxic stress shapes their advocacy for their child-clients. The screening was provided by Taylor McDonald of Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina. Friend of the Guardian ad Litem Debi Baker painted rocks for advocates to use as reminders of Ms. Baker’s encouragement for them to keep doing the important work of advocating for the children represented by the Guardian ad Litem Program. The Harnett County Bar Association donated catering for the reception to honor the district’s advocates.
Vickie Atkins, a Lee County Guardian ad Litem since May 2013 was awarded the 2019 Melannie Taylor Gunter Guardian ad Litem of the Year Award for her work as a GAL volunteer which includes advocating for children in court, serving on the district’s recruitment team as well as working as a co-facilitator of the GAL pre-service training with district staff. After attending the ceremony and in response to her receipt of the award, Ms. Atkins stated, “The event was wonderful and special. I am so humbled and honored to have received this award. It is beautiful.” The Lee County Bar Association donated the awards for the GAL of the Year.
NC GAL State Administrator Cindy Bizzell extended her gratitude on behalf of the GAL staff and the program’s child-clients for the time the advocates commit to the important work of advocating for the children and read Governor Roy Cooper’s Proclamation declaring April Child Advocate Month in North Carolina.
When asked why she decided to volunteer her time with the GAL Program, and how her life has been impacted by her advocacy work, Johnston County GAL Advocate Kimberly Harper shared that after speaking with GAL Supervisor John Webster about the advocacy opportunity, “…he opened my eyes to how important this work, of being a child’s voice, was.” Ms. Harper has been impacted by the children and their stories and finds fulfillment in helping them get their message to the people who have the ability to make their situation better. Ms. Harper states, “I want to make sure these children are heard.”
About the Guardian ad Litem Program, 11th Judicial District serving Lee, Harnett and Johnston Counties:
In the 2017-2018 year this program served 619 children and held 3,130 court hearings serving abused and neglected children. We had 130 community volunteers who served as court appointed Guardians ad Litem.
To become a NC GAL volunteer visit www.volunteerforgal.org
About the North Carolina Guardian ad Litem Program, Administrative Office of the Courts:
North Carolina Guardian ad Litem equips community volunteers to serve abused and neglected children by advocating for their best interests in court. In 1983, the North Carolina General Assembly established the Office of Guardian ad Litem (GAL) Services as a division of the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts. Pursuant to G.S. 7B-601, when a petition alleging abuse or neglect of a juvenile is filed in district court, the judge appoints a volunteer Guardian ad Litem advocate and an attorney advocate to provide team representation to the child, who has full party status in trial and appellate proceedings. All Guardian ad Litem advocates are trained, supervised, and supported by program staff in each county of the state. The collaborative model of GAL attorney advocates, volunteers, and staff ensures that all North Carolina children who are alleged by the Department of Social Services to have been abused or neglected receive GAL legal advocacy services.
The role of Guardian ad Litem advocates is to:
- Fulfill state and federal statutory mandates to protect and promote the best interests of juveniles in abuse and neglect court proceedings
- Help the courts work efficiently toward safety and permanence for children
- Conduct independent investigations to determine the facts, needs of the child, and the resources appropriate to meet those needs
- Determine the wishes or expressed preferences of the child and report those to the court
- Provide a voice for abused and neglected children in every county of the state
When speaking about child victim advocacy in court, the question sometimes arises, “Why use volunteers?” Answering that question for North Carolina entails an evolving history spanning nearly a decade, but the short answer is that volunteers are effective. The model of co-appointing volunteers and attorneys to speak for abused and neglected children in court provides strong, competent advocacy to the children who need it.