CLARENDON COUNTY - Abused and neglected children need a sense of belonging, unconditional love and when possible a safe, family reunification.
The period of uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has everyone adjusting to a "new normal." The sad reality of the "new normal" is that so many programs have been halted amid the strain of the pandemic, and the new normal hasn't stopped child abuse and neglect.
These children need a chance for a better life. That's what the South Carolina Department of Children's Advocacy's Cass Elias McCarter Guardian ad Litem program offers.
Clarendon County residents who are concerned about child abuse and neglect victims can get involved. If you are over 21 and can give four to five hours a month of your time for a child, you can change a child's life. Individuals interested in participating in the GAL program are encouraged to submit a completed application by Jan. 15. To download an application or for more information, log onto gal.sc.gov.
On Jan. 25, Clarendon County's office of the Cass Elias McCarter GAL program is offering a free online training program for accepted applicants.
Founded in 1984, the GAL program holds free training courses throughout the state at various times during the year to teach community volunteers how to advocate as Guardians ad Litem for abused and neglected children who have or are involved in family court legal proceedings through the Department of Social Services.
GAL volunteers get to know the children and everyone involved in the child's life, including family, teachers, doctors, social workers and others. These volunteers gather information about the child and what the child's needs are. The GAL volunteers make their recommendations to the court to help the judge make an informed decision about a child's future.
GAL volunteers do more than just gather information. These volunteers provide a stable presence in a child's life, remaining on each case until the child is placed in a safe, permanent home.
To learn more about the GAL program, contact Cassandra Hilton at the Florence County office at (843) 669-7940.
The history of GAL in South Carolina
Almost four decades ago, a Columbia woman worked tirelessly to establish the first state-funded volunteer program for child advocacy. Cass Elias McCarter's vision was to protect South Carolina's children. It was through her diligence that she secured a grant to start a volunteer Guardian ad Litem program. McCarter's vision for the abused and neglected children of South Carolina became a GAL program that would eventually blanket the state.
The first program started in Marlboro County in 1984. Within five years, a GAL program was operational in every judicial circuit in South Carolina. In fiscal year 2017-18, the program had grown to 2,216 advocates serving more than 14,000 children.
McCarter died in 2004 and never got to see her vision completed. Her legacy continues to serve the children of South Carolina. In 2010, the South Carolina Legislature passed a bill changing the name of the program to the Cass Elias McCarter Guardian ad Litem Program.
Beginning in 2010, every child with an abuse or neglect case in South Carolina Family Court has been appointed a volunteer GAD to be their voice. The program that began in Marlboro County in 1984 has become a nationwide model for serving all children.
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