Guest Commentary: Three ways to help children in foster care this summer
Across Florida, thousands of children enter the state’s child welfare system each year. The hope is it’s just a temporary placement and children will eventually be reunited at home with their biological parents. Unfortunately, a permanent solution is often needed.
In either case, these children are going through a difficult period and need our help. They may have been separated from their mom, dad and siblings, as well as friends and neighbors. They may be worried about the next steps in their lives, like where they’ll live or whether their brothers and sisters are OK.
Below are three ways you can help children in foster care and youth in the child welfare system this summer:
Become a Volunteer Child Advocate
The Guardian ad Litem program provides court-certified, volunteer child advocates who serve as the voice for children as they navigate the judicial, education and child welfare systems. Essentially, these advocates make unbiased recommendations based on what’s best for a child.
Volunteer child advocates include individuals who are quite familiar with the legal system, including attorneys, paralegals, retired judges and clerks. Others include retirees, educators, business owners and stay-at-home parents. All volunteers share one skill — they are compassionate. Guardian ad Litem provides a comprehensive training program, so anyone with heart for the job and a passion for advocating in the best interest of children can apply.
New volunteer child advocates must undergo a background check and commit to visiting a child once per month and monitoring his or her case. Guardian ad Litem provides biographical information on children currently in need of support, allowing volunteer child advocates to select one or more children based on age, location and other factors. No prior counseling, parenting or legal experience is necessary.
Prospective volunteer child advocates can submit an inquiry online at GuardianAdLitem.org/become-gal/gal-volunteer-application.
Become a Political Ally
Florida lawmakers regularly address the state’s child welfare system and often introduce new legislation that would impact children across the state.
Not everyone has connections in Tallahassee or time to lobby lawmakers, but writing a letter to your local state representative or senator is critical in helping formulate policy. In fact, lawmakers welcome input from constituents and taxpayers. Contact information is posted at MyFloridaHouse.gov and FLSenate.gov.
Become an Organizational Supporter
The Guardian ad Litem Foundation, 20th Judicial Circuit, supports the Guardian ad Litem program across Southwest Florida. The foundation helps recruit, train and support volunteer child advocates, and also raises money to help meet a child’s basic and developmental needs. The foundation’s Children’s Needs Program provides funding for normalcy items and experiences like birthday parties, tutoring, summer camp programs, movie tickets, beds and registration fees for clubs and sports.
Donations are accepted online through a secure portal at VoicesForKids.org/ways-to-give. In addition to one-time monetary donations, the foundation also helps supporters with planned giving, wills and life insurance policies.
Youth in the child welfare system are vulnerable, and they need our help as individuals and as a community to thrive during challenging times. Your support can change the stories of countless children in Southwest Florida.
— Jessica Stanfield is Executive Director of the Guardian ad Litem Foundation, 20th Judicial Circuit. For more information, please visit VoicesForKids.org or call 239-533-1435.