SMITHFIELD – Eleventh District Court Judge Joy A. Jones welcomed new Guardian ad Litem (GAL) Child Advocates with a swearing-in ceremony at the Johnston County Courthouse on Wednesday, September 8, 2021.
The event brought together GAL Advocates Jennifer Fiebelkorn and Valerie Hawks in-person for the first time since being accepted into the Guardian ad Litem Program’s pre-service training, which is currently offered virtually due to the challenges still present from COVID-19. They had just completed their 30 hours of pre-service training, along with six other new District 11 child advocates, who after being sworn-in, were assigned their first cases.
Valerie Hawks said, “I’ve wanted to be a GAL for almost 20 years, even when I lived in another state because I wanted to do more for children than just give money. I wanted to do more for children in situations where in the past I felt helpless. By becoming a GAL, I no longer feel helpless. I feel like I’m doing something.”
“Being able to meet a child goes from them just being a name on a piece of paper to a being a real person. As I have gotten started on the case, I haven’t felt the least bit alone in the process. Everyone has been willing to help, so I have felt like I am an important piece of a big puzzle. It has been rewarding to realize I’m not alone in this,” Hawks stated.
District Administrator Allison DeLong takes pride in welcoming new Guardians ad Litem to their GAL work. “These citizen volunteers provide our Courts with important information strictly from the child’s perspective and in their best interest. Their input is an important piece of the bigger puzzle a Judge considers when making decisions about children and their families.” .
Guardians ad Litem are approved for training after a background check and a screening interview with a member of the GAL Staff. After training, these child advocates are partnered with an Attorney Advocate, and supported by GAL, and champion the interests of children in court. Guardians ad Litem promote a safe, permanent home for children.
The 11th Judicial District, which includes Johnston County, is part of the North Carolina Guardian ad Litem Program, a division of the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts, which recruits, trains, and supervises volunteer advocates in every county across the state to represent and promote the best interests of abused, neglected, and dependent children in the state court system. Volunteer advocates work with an attorney to form a plan that ensures these children are placed in a safe, permanent home.
The North Carolina Guardian ad Litem Program survives on the work of our Guardian ad Litem volunteers, as its vital work is only made possible by these dedicated volunteers who are committed to the cause of keeping children safe from future harm. If you have an interest in becoming a voice for children in our community, please visit volunteerforgal.org for more information and to submit your application.
Ms. Hawks added,“This work hasn’t been a sad thing, but a happy thing, because I am a part of helping make positive strides in a child’s life! It can’t be measured at all.”