Across South Carolina, there is a shortage of men advocating for children in court. Cass Elias McCarter Guardian ad Litem program organizers are challenging men to volunteer and take charge against child abuse.
In 2011, about 2,500 South Carolina citizens served as volunteer Guardians ad Litem. Of those, only 20 percent were men while half of all children need a guardian are male.
“This is not just a women’s program,” said Barbara Darley, state director of the program. “A Guardian ad Litem is a powerful role. Boys and young men in foster care need to see men taking charge of the welfare of their community.”
A Guardian ad Litem is a volunteer trained to advocate for a child. After a volunteer is trained, the program links them with a child involved in a neglect or abuse case. The volunteer independently investigates a case and makes recommendations that give family court judges a more complete picture of the children’s needs. The volunteer stays with the child throughout the case, making sure his or her voice is being heard.
“Men are natural protectors and good problem-solvers. That is a powerful combination in child advocacy,” said Darley.
Volunteers spend an average of five hours each month working on a case, which includes visiting the child and other activities like attending court hearings. Volunteers say small gestures are enough to make a huge difference in a child’s life.
“One kid had an event at school, and neither of his parents showed up,” said Charles Ballew, a volunteer who has a full-time job and three children of his own.
“He was sad. The other kids had their parents there. But as soon as he saw me, he grabbed my hand, and we took off down the hall. It put a big smile on his face,” said Ballew.
Program organizers encourage anyone with an interest in children’s issues — both men and women — to sign up. For more information about becoming a volunteer, visit Darlington.scgal.org or call 843-383-2333.
The Cass Elias McCarter Guardian ad Litem Program is a division of the S.C. Governor’s Office of Executive Policy and Programs and a member of the National Court Appointed Special Advocate Association.