FORT BRAGG, N.C. - Children who are victims of neglect or abuse, need someone to be an advocate for their best interests and help serve as their voice. The North Carolina Guardian ad Litem program in Cumberland County is searching for volunteers from the Fort Bragg community to help these children, who are petitioned into juvenile court by the Cumberland County Department of Social Services.

Valerie Haynes, district administrator, N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts, Guardian ad Litem Office, said about 20 to 25 percent of the minors petitioned in Cumberland County are military children.

"Military Families are under a tremendous amount of stress, especially now during wartime with back-to-back deployments," said Haynes. "This additional stress can lead someone to acting in a way they don't normally act, potentially leading to the abuse or neglect of a child."

A Guardian ad Litem visits with the child and communicates with the attorney advocate to help develop legal strategies in the best interests of the child. Volunteers interview the children, parents, teachers and service providers and writes fact-based, child-focused reports for court hearings to help the Family court judges make their decisions.

"Our focus is the child," said Haynes. "The Department of Social Services focuses on the Family as a whole. Our mission is to find the child a safe, permanent home as quickly as possible."
Fort Bragg's Family Advocacy Program encourages Soldiers, civilians and Family members to volunteer their time to the Guardian ad Litem program.

"The safety and protection of children is the responsibility of each community member," said Henry Berry, child victim advocate, Fort Bragg FAP, who also volunteers as a Guardian ad Litem. "Child abuse is not a Cumberland County issue, it is a community issue."

Berry added that the program affords military members the opportunity to volunteer their time to serves as advocates for abused children, helping them through a rough time by helping navigate them through the complex court system and social service network.

"Volunteering as a Guardian ad Litem is a great way for people who are new to the community to meet professionals in a variety of locations throughout the area and network, while helping a child who really needs them," said Haynes.

The next volunteer training session begins Tuesday and runs for five consecutive Tuesday nights from 6 to 8 p.m. The classes are at the Partnership for Children building at 351 Wagoner Dr., Fayetteville.

The training manual and a complete job description are available online at www.nccourts.org. For more information on the program or to sign up for the next training session, call Carla Beverage at 678-2491.

To report a suspected case of abuse or neglect, call 677-2450.

Page last updated Mon September 14th, 2009 at 08:53