Every week or so, I receive an email from the hardworking folks who run the Horry County guardian ad litem program, a nonprofit dedicated to making sure distressed kids thrust into the social services system – often because of the actions of the adults in their lives – have a strong, clear voice in Family Court.
The message always includes a list of kids who recently entered the system and need help: a 5-month-old placed with relatives; a 15-year-old placed in foster care; three teenagers from the same family placed in three different foster homes.
It doesn’t include details or names of the kids, but usually kids in Horry County are in the system because of abuse or neglect. Substance abuse involving their parents or caretakers is common; the kind of abuse sometimes begins when they are in the womb. Having to witness domestic and other kinds of violence in their homes is a frequent cause as well.
Every time I get the email, I wish I could answer the program’s call to take on more cases, but my schedule won’t allow me to take on more than one at a time. I’m scheduled to be in court next month to give my recommendation about the fate of two young kids.
If I took on more than one case, I wouldn’t be doing the kids, or the system, justice.
Fortunately, there are several retirees serving as guardian ad litems, taking on multiple cases and handling them well.
Unfortunately, there are neither enough volunteers like them, or me.
It’s no secret that my favorite area nonprofit is the literacy program Freedom Readers, which has multiple sites in Horry and Georgetown counties and can always use more volunteers and financial support. (Find out more about it at FreedomReaders.org.) And it’s not because it was founded by my wife. It’s because I understand the link between having a solid, early educational foundation and success in adulthood.
But the guardian program is extremely important as well, which is why I’m willing to do the legwork and participate in the training required to be an adequate advocate for at-risk kids. My month involves visiting the kids I’ve been assigned, interviewing all relevant parties, then trying to figure out, based on that investigation, what I will recommend to the Family Court judge.
I can’t say it’s my favorite thing to do, even though I’ve met kids, elementary-aged and teens, who’ve I’ve grown to love, and Department of Social Services case workers and foster care parents I respect.
Confronting some of the evils some kids in Horry County have had to contend with can be emotionally taxing.
But without a strong advocate, the prospects for those kids remain bleak.
That’s why I’m a guardian ad litem, and am hoping more people join me.
Here’s more about the program:
▪ The Horry County office of the Cass Elias McCarter Guardian ad Litem Program is offering a 30-hour training program at no cost. The next training class starts July 7 in the Horry County Guardian ad Litem office at 1320 U.S. 501 Business, Unit H, Conway.
▪ Contact Erin Marshall at 347-9750 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit horry.scgal.org.