Noting that 6,000 children and teens up to age 18 live in Miami-Dade County foster homes, Pierre urged an audience of more than 30 to become an appointee of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court program to give abused and homeless children “a second voice” in managing personal affairs.
Pierre is one of three recruiting specialists in Miami-Dade County. Federal, state and local government agencies, non-profits and faith-based organizations, private foundations and corporations support efforts of the county’s local guardian ad litem (GAL) program.
“You will be appointed to cases to become the eyes and ears of the court as well as a ‘voice’ for a child in court,” Pierre explained.
“Guardian ad litem spend personal time with each child, recommending to the court what they feel is in a child’s best interest. “Guardians may spend up to 10 hours during monthly visits to assist their charges personally, gather information and learn the child’s needs and personal issues.
“GALs are not the same as a legal guardian,” she said. “Instead, they represent the personal or non-legal interests of these children, beyond those that foster care parents may be able to provide on a daily basis.”
Big Brother and Big Sister volunteers play similar roles but are not specifically assigned court recognition, as are guardian ad litem, Pierre noted.
“Primarily, GALs act as a personal advisor to assist a child removed from a hostile home environment, usually by the state department of social services,” she said.
Foster homes largely serve a caretaking role that furnishes shelter, food, clothing and a place to stay, she said. Many foster parents do not have the time to provide mentoring, school tutoring or personal help, in and out of school.
“This is not to diminish the care and help foster parents provide,” said Laurel Wade, veteran Hammocks District Community Resources Officer.
“We’ll often see four or five youngsters under the care of a single foster mother who simply doesn’t have the time to keep up with a job and her own family needs in addition to devoting personal attentions to each foster child in her care.”
Children languishing today in foster care and the child welfare system are much more likely to find a safe, permanent home with the help of a GAL, Pierre said. Those who volunteer for GAL service will take a 30- hour training course administered through the Miami-Dade program before a court assignment to a child.
“No special qualifications are required but that of a strong commitment to represent these children’s best interest as a caring parent would, and so advise the court, Pierre emphasized.
For more information, contact Pierre at 786-469-3814 or visit<www.wearegulardians.org.