Volunteers for Guardian ad Litem program needed, free online training Feb. 27


The need for volunteers advocating for abused or neglected children is still at an all-time high in the tri-county area, and residents are encouraged to join the free training program to become an advocate.

The online training will be held on Monday, Feb. 27, through The Cass Elias McCarter Guardian ad Litem Program, which will be available to Lee, Clarendon and Sumter residents who have a concern for victims of child abuse and neglect.

"A volunteer guardian ad litem once told me, 'Kids want to be listened to and know that you care,' and right now our biggest challenge is finding enough volunteers in our local communities who can do just that for every child we serve," said Cassandra Hilton with the S.C. Department of Children's Advocacy Guardian ad Litem Program.

According to a news release, the Guardian ad Litem Program was founded in 1984 and offers free training courses throughout South Carolina at various times during the year to teach community volunteers how to advocate as guardians ad litem for abused and neglected children who are involved in family court legal proceedings through the Department of Social Services. It is a division of the South Carolina Department of Children's Advocacy, an independent state agency led by Director and State Child Advocate Amanda Whittle.

"As a volunteer guardian ad litem, you have a direct effect on the lives of children by advocating for them in the courtroom and ensuring their voice is heard," Hilton said.

Hilton is asking people over the age of 21 who have a clean criminal record and no previous DSS case history and can spare four to five hours a month to take part and "change a child's life." Potential volunteers will go through a background check.

Once approved, volunteers will complete a 30-hour training during six weeks, and once appointed to a child by a judge, volunteers get to know the child and everyone involved in the child's life to better understand the child and their needs. The volunteer will then give recommendations to the court, which helps the judge make an informed decision about the child's future, according to Hilton.

"GAL volunteers provide a stable presence in a child's life, remaining on each case until the child is placed in a safe, permanent home," the release said.

Residents interested in becoming a volunteer must have an application submitted by Feb. 25. For more information and to download the application, visit www.gal.sc.gov.

To learn more about volunteer and training opportunities, call Hilton at (803) 530-9190.