GAL – Guardian ad Litem
What is a Guardian ad Litem Volunteer?
A Guardian ad Litem (“GAL”) is a trained, court-appointed volunteer who serves as the voice for abused, neglected and abandoned children in dependency court.
Every day in this country, 1,900 children become victims of abuse or neglect, and four of them will die. Every day.
The Guardian ad Litem Program is part of a national network of 933 community-based programs that recruit, train and support citizen-volunteers to advocate for the best interests of abused and neglected children in courtrooms and communities. GALs are volunteer advocates—empowered directly by the courts—offer judges the critical information they need to ensure that each child’s rights and needs are being attended to while the children in foster care and child welfare system.
GAL volunteers are both a compass and a lifeline. Studies have proven that when a volunteer Guardian ad Litem serves on a child’s case, the child spends less time languishing in foster care and has a greater chance of achieving long-term stability. GAL volunteers facilitate many needs for their children and youth. Specifically, Guardians ad Litem:
- Help find relatives and friends for placement to reduce the trauma of being in a new and unfamiliar environment;
- Try to keep siblings together and ensure that visitations and phone contact occur regularly with healthy and supportive relatives;
- Investigate the children’s medical and educational situations, ensuring that their needs are addressed expeditiously;
- Attempt to ensure normalcy by looking out for the children’s social and emotional well-being, making certain they are involved in recreational activities, music, sports, and other healthy activities to help empower them to develop their full potential; and
- Submit best interest recommendations to the court.
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.
History of the GAL Program
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, 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 and that, for those cases without a GAL, 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”; however, the majority of state programs are now known as “CASA”, which stands for “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 41 staff members and nearly 750 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 2100 children.