Program seeks volunteers to advocate for abused children

Published 6:47 pm Friday, April 14, 2017

Every child deserves to have someone looking out for his or her best interests. Many don’t have that person —which is why the North Carolina Guardian ad Litem program is seeking local volunteers to be voices for the voiceless.

“We need many new volunteers this year to support a growing population of children placed in foster care in District 2 & 3A (Beaufort, Martin, Hyde, Washington, Tyrrell & Pitt Counties),” Dr. Laura Staton, a retired physician and a GAL volunteer for the past eight years, wrote in an email. “In 2016 in North Carolina, our program supported 5,075 GALs in service to 17,219 children across North Carolina. In an effort to make sure every child has a GAL, we are looking to make our community aware of the need, and aware of this unique volunteer opportunity. We know there are many potential volunteers in our community who would like make a difference in a child’s life.”

A Guardian ad Litem advocate is a trained community volunteer who is appointed, along with a Guardian ad Litem attorney, by a district court judge to investigate and determine the needs of abused and neglected children petitioned into the court system by the Department of Social Services, according to the North Carolina GAL program website. Volunteers donate an average of eight hours a month, which may include visiting with a child client, conducting interviews, reading reports, monitoring court orders, collaborating with service providers, formulating fact-based, child-focused court reports with recommendations and testifying in court hearings.

In North Carolina, there are currently 2,200 abused and neglected children in the foster system who go to court without someone to advocate just for them — 24 of them are in Beaufort County, Staton wrote. While Beaufort County has 39 active GAL volunteers, there is a need for more, she said. GAL staff is seeking volunteers for the local training program that consists of 30 hours of both online and in-person classes. The in-person classes will run for six weeks on Tuesday evenings beginning April 28.

Tom Walker is another Beaufort County resident who volunteered for the program after he retired in 2007. As a civil litigator, Walker had the law background, but he’d never worked in juvenile matters.

“As far as I know, I’m the only lawyer in the local GAL program, but there’s no need to be,” Walker said. “You’ve got to be able to be willing to do the legwork. You can have parents tell you something; you can get information from them as to what happened in an incident, but you get the best information from the source. You have to go to the police station; you have to look at the police report. You have to go to courts, you have to talk to the doctor, look at the medical records. It takes some time and effort, but anybody can do that. … And I like the investigation part of it. Quite frankly, I really do.”

In the past 10 years, Walker said he’s represented 20 or more Beaufort County children and worked with parents and other relatives to find the best outcome for a child in the foster system, even though the choices are sometimes limited to choosing the best available result from several bad options, he said.

“In my opinion, I think it’s always best if the kids can go back to their biological parents. In my experience, I’ve frequently worked with the parents to understand what they need to do to get their kids back,” Walker said. “I’ll work with the parents first to see if we can get them back there. If not — a relative. Thank God for grandparents. … You’ve got to be able to look at it objectively, which can be difficult sometimes.”

That makes it very important each and every child has someone who’s on their side and willing be their voice in the courtroom, especially during times of chance and uncertainty, according to Staton.

“It’s one kid at a time,” Walker said.

For more information about the Guardian ad Litem program and training, visit, call 800-982-4041 or the local office at 252-974-7864.