• Do I have to take the child into my home?
No. Our volunteers do not take the children into their homes or transport them.
• Do I have to be a lawyer or social worker?
No. Our volunteers are from all walks of life. You will receive a free 30-hour training course to prepare you for your work as a GAL and receive ongoing support from GAL staff.
• What kinds of people serve as GAL Volunteers?
Being a GAL requires no specialized degrees or legal experience. It does require special people over the age of 21, who are legal residents of South Carolina, are able to pass background and reference checks and have:
- • A concern for children's issues;
- • A genuine desire to help;
- • The commitment to complete a free 30-hour training course;
- • Sensitivity to people who are different from themselves;
- • The desire to give 4-6 hours a month to a child.
• Do I have time for this?
Many GAL volunteers work full time and find the experience flexible enough to accommodate their schedules. You will go to court about 2-4 times a year and attend a few daytime meetings. The rest of a GAL volunteer’s work is done on his or her own time – visiting the child, reviewing records and reading and writing reports. You will meet, email and call others involved in the case. Throughout a child’s case, volunteers typically spend an average of 4-6 hours a month.
• Can I handle this emotionally?
GAL volunteers are assigned to a case after the alleged child abuse or neglect has occurred. The GAL’s focus is on determining the child’s current and future needs. GAL staff provides emotional support and guidance throughout the case and accompanies volunteers to court hearings.
• Will I be safe?
GAL volunteers are never expected or encouraged to place themselves in dangerous situations. The work of a GAL is challenging, but you will always have the support of a GAL staff person. This program has been serving children for 27 years, and we have not had any injuries to volunteers during that time.
• What kinds of children will I be working with?
Children who have been abused or neglected and are under the protection of DSS and the Family Court System. These children could be living in a foster home or a relative’s home. They range in age from newborn to teenager and in numbers from one child on a case to a large sibling group. Volunteers can choose an age range that they prefer to work with. We provide a GAL to every child who needs one.
• How do GAL volunteers advocate for abused children?
A GAL volunteer finds out what the children want. They learn about their families, their school progress, and their special needs. The GAL volunteer works with all agencies involved with the child, including the Department of Social Services, the Family Court, school personnel and counselors to help the child through this process.
• Will my time make a difference?
Absolutely. GAL volunteers offer children a consistent helping hand to guide them through the foster care system and a strong voice advocating on their behalf. As a result, children represented by a GAL are more likely to:
- • receive the services and resources they and their families need;
- • maintain stable placements while in foster care;
- • find safe, loving permanent homes.
• How do I know what to recommend to the judge in a case?
GAL volunteers make recommendations based on the time they spend with the child, the review of records, interviews with the caseworker, foster parents, teachers, relatives, parents, and any other person involved in the child’s life. A GAL volunteer learns about the community services available and making recommendations in the free 30-hour training course.
• Why would the judge listen to me?
The GAL volunteer is appointed to represent the best interests of the child and make recommendations to the court. Judges respect GAL volunteers and take their recommendations into account when making decisions. A 2009 Judicial survey gave an overall satisfaction of the South Carolina Guardian ad Litem Program a 4.7 out of 5.0. Click here to read more about the survey.
• Would I be involved in custody or divorce cases?
No. By statute, GAL volunteers can only be appointed on child abuse and neglect cases in family court. Divorce and custody cases sometimes involve a private Guardian ad Litem, but those are not SC GAL volunteers. The GAL program has no oversight of private Guardians ad Litem. Our volunteer training does NOT qualify a person to be a private Guardian ad Litem.
• How is the South Carolina Guardian ad Litem Program structured?
The South Carolina Guardian ad Litem program is state-funded and is part of the South Carolina Department of Administration. We currently operate in 45 counties within the state’s 16 judicial circuits. The Richland County Guardian ad Litem Program operates independently from the statewide program and is funded as a public-private partnership through various county funds, grants and donations.
• How did the Guardian ad Litem program get started?
In 1984, a young woman from Columbia, South Carolina, worked tirelessly in establishing the first state funded volunteer program for child advocacy. Cass Elias McCarter had a vision of protecting South Carolina’s children. Through perseverance and hard work, she secured a grant to start a volunteer Guardian ad Litem program. With the help of one assistant, she began to transform her vision into a volunteer force that would eventually blanket the state. Read more here