MISSION: North Carolina Guardian ad Litem equips community volunteers to serve abused and neglected children by advocating for their best interests in court.
Our mission to serve children has grown through the decades, but volunteers have been central to North Carolina Guardian ad Litem from the start. Read a brief history of our mission below, as well as why volunteers are so essential to our mission today.
Why Community Volunteers? A Brief History of Our Evolving Mission
When speaking about child victim advocacy in court, the question sometimes arises, “Why use volunteers?” Answering that question for North Carolina entails an evolving history spanning nearly a decade, but the short answer is that volunteers are effective. The model of co-appointing volunteers and attorneys to speak for abused and neglected children in court provides strong, competent advocacy to the children who need it.
Initial Movement to Hear Child Victim Voices in Court Begins
In the 1960s a national movement began to have the independent voice of child victims heard in court. The Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, enacted in 1973, required the appointment of a Guardian ad Litem in all abuse and neglect proceedings.
North Carolina Creates Its First Guardian ad Litem Statute
In 1977, North Carolina responded with its first Guardian ad Litem statute, granting judges the authority to appoint attorneys as Guardians ad Litem, although appointment was not required. The statute was amended in 1979 to require the appointment of attorney guardians ad litem in all abuse and neglect cases.
Research funded by the Bush Institute showed attorneys were not investigating the facts in the cases, children were receiving uneven Guardian ad Litem representation, and attorneys were not being uniformly compensated for their Guardian ad Litem representation. In response, the Guardian ad Litem statute was amended in 1981 to allow either non-attorneys or attorneys to be appointed as Guardians ad Litem. In cases where non-attorneys were appointed, some judges also wanted an attorney appointed. While this 1981 amendment helped cap attorney costs, children were still receiving uneven Guardian ad Litem representation.
Three Counties in North Carolina Pilot Different Guardian ad Litem Program Models
Also in 1981, the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation paid for a study to pilot three models of Guardian ad Litem (GAL) representation. The three pilots, carried out by Child Watch, were:
- Wake County: volunteers appointed as GAL; attorneys were available for consultation with volunteers; staff recruited, screened, trained and supervised volunteers
- Wayne County: volunteers appointed as GAL; attorneys co-appointed in all contested cases; attorneys were available for consultation with volunteers
- Alamance County: attorney and volunteer co-appointed in every case; staff recruited, screened, trained and supervised volunteers
After the pilot period, it was determined that a partnership between volunteer and attorney was the most effective. In 1983, the Guardian ad Litem statute was amended to mandate the appointment of an attorney when the guardian ad litem was a non-attorney, and the Office of Guardian ad Litem Services was established to operate a program that implemented the volunteer and attorney co-appointment model of representation.
In 1983, the North Carolina Guardian ad Litem Program is Established
The Guardian ad Litem Program was established in 1983 by the North Carolina General Assembly. N.C.G.S. 7B-1200 states:
There is established within the Administrative Office of the Courts an Office of Guardian ad Litem Services to provide services in accordance with G.S. 7B-601 to abused, neglected, or dependent juveniles involved in judicial proceedings and to assure that all participants in these proceedings are adequately trained to carry out their responsibilities. Each local program shall consist of volunteer guardians ad litem, at least one program attorney, a program coordinator who is a paid State employee, and any clerical staff as the Administrative Office of the Courts in consultation with the local program deems necessary. The Administrative Office of the Courts shall adopt rules and regulations necessary and appropriate for the administration of the program.
Three Decades Later, Volunteer Advocacy Is Still at Our Mission's Core
We believe in volunteers. Three decades of equipping volunteers to speak up for abused and neglected children in court has solidified this belief.
Because they care.
Because they have the time.
Because they aren’t part of the system.
Because they can focus on one case.
Because they see things we don’t always see.
Because they bring awareness to their own communities.
Because they feel the responsibility to pay things forward.
Because they bring integrity to our program.
Because they create a network of advocates.
Because they make a difference.
Because they are effective.
While we don’t deny that using Guardian ad Litem volunteers saves money, volunteers mean so much more than millions of dollars saved. When someone gives their time and energy away to a cause, it points to the strength of that cause, infusing it with an integrity that can’t be bought. More importantly, freely giving of time to vulnerable children in need signifies worth to them in a way that paid employees simply cannot.
Through each strives to make a difference, each Guardian ad Litem volunteer brings something unique to their advocacy experience, and that fresh perspective provides insight and clarity to cases that are often complex and multifaceted. Without volunteers, our program, and the children it serves, would miss out on this collective, yet diverse, wisdom.
And then there’s the size of this network of Guardians ad Litem, now tens of thousands strong -- a multitude that could only be created with passionate volunteers. The more people who get involved with helping abused and neglected children, the further the message of child abuse prevention can go and the more children can be helped. We believe our volunteers can make a difference not just in children’s lives, but in their communities and the world at large.
That’s why we believe in volunteers, and why our mission will continue to be equipping them to advocate for children in court.
Want to be part of that mission? Learn more about a Guardian ad Litem volunteers.