What is a Guardian ad Litem Volunteer?
A Guardian ad Litem is a trained, court-appointed volunteer who serves as the voice for abused and neglected children in dependency court. The first Guardian ad Litem was appointed in 1974 when the federal government enacted the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, which provided financial assistance to states for the prevention, identification and treatment of child abuse and neglect. In order to qualify, states were required to appoint a Guardian ad Litem (initially meaning an attorney) to protect the child’s interests upon entering the legal system.
In 1976, the Honorable David Soukop of Seattle, Washington, concluded that there were not enough attorneys to advocate for these children. He felt he did not have adequate information to make educated decisions about the future of these children’s lives. In the following year, Judge Soukop assisted with the beginnings of the Guardian ad Litem Program, which uses trained volunteers to be advocates for our communities’ abused, abandoned and neglected children. In Florida and in a number of other states, we continue to use the original name of Guardian ad Litem Program; however, the majority of state programs are now known as CASA, Court Appointed Special Advocate.
In Broward County, the Guardian ad Litem Program was implemented in 1983 with a handful of volunteers and one staff member. Today, the Program has grown to include almost 40 staff members and nearly 600 volunteer advocates. Our Program is a member of the National CASA Association, a network of over 1000 Programs and more than 60,000 volunteers nationwide, serving more than 240,000 children.
Together in Broward County, the volunteers and staff currently advocate for approximately 1100 children. Assisted by a strong team of attorneys and supervisors, volunteers do the following:
- Speak up for the best interests of the child in the courtroom and the community,
- Gather information through regular visits with the child,
- Conduct interviews with the people associated with child, such as parents, caregivers, and teachers,
- Write reports for court hearings that include recommendations to the judge, and
- Attend court hearings.
If you are at least 21 years old and possess a strong desire to make a difference in the life of a child, please select “How do I become a Guardian ad Litem?” We hope that you will be a part of our commitment to ensure that no abused or neglected child’s voice goes unheard.