BY DANIELLE SWEET
When I first read a newspaper article about the Guardian ad Litem program of Iredell County, I was a stay-at-home mom with two middle school-age sons. I was immediately drawn to the program because of the important work the GAL staff and volunteers do in our community. Without these caring individuals, abused and neglected children would not have a voice in our court system. While I did not have sufficient time to dedicate to volunteering at that time, the mission stuck with me.
Years later, I contacted the area director and met with her for an interview. After I completed the training program, I was sworn in as a Guardian Ad Litem and immediately assigned my first case. At first, I was a bit intimidated by the responsibility of advocating for these children in court, but the training I received gave me confidence to take on this critical role. I also knew that I could reach out to the professional staff at the GAL office for help anytime.
In an effort to properly advocate for the children involved in my cases, I gather information from as many people involved as possible. That includes parents, relatives, teachers, doctors, foster parents, Department of Social Services staff and, most importantly, the children themselves.
When a new case is opened, the initial goal is always reunification with the parents. As the case moves along, the parents’ progress meeting the conditions outlined in their case plans and their honesty will determine whether that is the best option for the children or not.
As I worked on my first case, there were challenges that arose with the parents that made the process of permanent placement long and tedious. But I continued advocating for the child until their safety was assured, their best interests were heard and they achieved permanence. I have stayed in touch with this family and love to see how happy and well cared for this child is many years later.
Throughout my many years as a Guardian Ad Litem, I have advocated for children who come from different backgrounds and family situations.
Some of the cases are resolved quickly when the parents admit that the minimum standard of living required by the law is not being met. They must work to remedy the situation and complete the steps of their case plans in order to be reunited with their children.
Sadly, many cases are drawn out. It is very frustrating to encounter parents who refuse to work together with DSS and the GAL program to create a safer, more loving home environment for their child or children. Ultimately, it’s the children who suffer in these cases. Children are resilient, but the insecurity that they feel while in a temporary living situation will often create anxiety. This, in turn, causes them to act up, lose sleep, and just be very unhappy.
That’s when I am reminded why I volunteer my time to help out these kids. They all deserve a safe, stable and loving home.
Danielle Sweet is a volunteer Guardian ad Litem.
WANT TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE?
The Guardian ad Litem’s Office for Iredell and Alexander counties needs more volunteers. In October 2023, the program had 30 unassigned children. When children are unassigned, staff cover the cases in addition to supervising all the children on assigned cases. When staff carry the cases, they are only able to do limited work on the cases. Most volunteers only carry one case and are able to give the children more time and attention. Training for new volunteers begins in January. You can find an application at volunteerforgal.org. For mor ore information, call 704-832-6621.