Guardians needed for kids in courts

MIDDLEBURY — State and local judiciary officials are desperately trying to recruit more volunteers to represent the interests of Addison County children who are part of the mounting number of juvenile cases flooding the court system.
The volunteers would act as guardians ad litem (GAL) — community members who make sure the voices of children get heard in court proceedings. These are children who come to the attention of the court for abuse or neglect, behavior issues or in some cases delinquency.
“It makes a huge difference in their lives,” Addison County Deputy State’s Attorney Ashley Hill said of the effect a guardian ad litem can have on a young charge.
“And there is no shortage of work to be done.”
Trouble is, there are currently only 16 active guardians in Addison County representing a combined total of around 125 juvenile cases, according to Judy Sherry, who coordinates GAL services in Addison and Chittenden counties. A case might involve one child, or four siblings in a family, she noted. Some of the cases are fairly basic and require little court time; others are more complex and might involve multiple court dates and visits with the children in question.
David Kennedy is manager of the Vermont’s guardian ad litem program, which is always looking for volunteers. There are currently around 300 GALs representing the interests of approximately 2,000 Vermont juveniles in court proceedings, according to Kennedy.
Addison County children who need GAL representation are currently receiving it, Kenney said. But the county sorely needs more volunteers to take some of the caseload stress off the small number of GALS available, he explained.
“Addison County is a situation where we are really exceeding capacities,” Kennedy said. “We need people to come in (as GALs) as soon as possible.”
Sherry acknowledges the GAL job can be a tough sell. There’s no compensation, except for mileage and the satisfaction of knowing you assisted a child and, in some cases, helped put his or her family back together. It requires training and these volunteers are occasionally thrust into some emotional domestic situations.
And it’s rare that a case doesn’t include — at least peripherally — substance abuse issues.
“I’m not getting any calls (from GAL applicants),” Sherry said of the current shortage. “No one seems to be curious.”
Only one Addison County individual thus far has signed up for GAL training later this month, according to Sherry. She acknowledged GAL responsibilities can be tough for people already working full-time jobs, as court hours are not really flexible. But it is doable. Sherry said six of her current GALs work full-time at Middlebury College.
Retirees are a major part of the GAL program. Among them is David Marsters, a former longtime educator who retired three years ago from Mount Abraham Union High School.
“When I stopped teaching at Mount Abe, I knew retirement wouldn’t be good for me if I wasn’t doing things,” Marsters said.
He learned about the GAL program. Since he had already spent many years helping children inside and outside of the classroom, he decided to give it a go. Marsters has no regrets. He is currently representing the interests of Addison County children in 10 court cases.
“The satisfaction I get out of it is when … you begin to see families slowly pull it together, and make their families and homes whole again,” Marsters said. “That’s what we want to happen.”
Asked what qualities a guardian ad litem should possess, Marsters cited patience, compassion, the ability to ask good questions “and being non-judgmental about what some of the answers might be.”
Marsters has found most parents to be pleased to have a GAL — an advocate who is not a lawyer or court employee — help their child through the legal process.
He credited the county’s judiciary officials for helping him do his job.
“The people I work with at the courthouse are a wonderful group of people dedicated to making this work,” he said of the juvenile cases. “I learn a lot from each of them when I go to court.”
Those seeking to become GALs should expect to pass background checks, then an interview with a coordinator who explains the program in-depth. Then there’s a three-day training program, after which each applicant is assigned to an experienced GAL who mentors them for two or three months to expose them to all phases of the job.
Sherry said GALs are expected to meet at least monthly with the children they represent. The court system would also like GALs to make a two-year commitment to the program, according to Sherry.
Anyone interested in becoming a GAL should contact Sherry at [email protected] or at (802) 651-1504.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

Share this story:

More News

Bernard D. Kimball, 76, of Middlebury

MIDDLEBURY — Bernard D. Kimball, 76, passed away in Bennington Hospital on Jan. 10, 2023. … (read more)

News Uncategorized

Fresh Air Fund youths returning to county

The Fresh Air Fund, initiated in 1877 to give kids from New York City the opportunity to e … (read more)

Obituaries Uncategorized

Mark A. Nelson of Bristol

BRISTOL — A memorial service for Mark A. Nelson of Bristol will be held 1 p.m. on Saturday … (read more)

Share this story: