A newborn’s umbilical cord tests positive for illegal drugs and the hospital makes a mandatory abuse report. Rather than place the child in the care of the mother, he would be sheltered under the wing of the Dependency Court.
“The infant would be retained in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit where he would be treated for drug dependency and perhaps placed in a medical foster home with foster parents who have medical experience to care for him,” said Sandra Roth, a Guardian ad Litem.
A caseworker would typically be assigned to work with the parents. But it’s a Guardian ad Litem that is assigned to advocate for the child.
Sandra Roth has been a Guardian ad Litem for five years. Her role in all cases is to ensure the child is safe and to advocate for the best interest of the child in court. While the goal is always to reunify children with parents, the parents must demonstrate to the Department of Children and Families and the court that the factors triggering the removal of the child have been resolved.
“But there are all kinds of situations that might warrant a child being removed from a home,” she said. “When that occurs, we make sure the child is in a safe place, either a foster home or perhaps placed with a relative.”
According to Guardianadlitem.org, a Guardian ad Litem is “a volunteer appointed by the court to protect the rights and advocate the best interest of a child involved in a court proceeding.”
But Roth said there is so much more involved. She has assisted children with learning disabilities get the proper services in public schools, helped others who suffer trauma from violent households receive counseling and bonded with her cases through mentoring they would not have received otherwise.
“It can be difficult work but is a very rewarding experience,” she said.
Children in the foster care system are at risk for health-related issues that are blamed on the physiological impacts of detachment on children who are still growing physically and emotionally.
Consider this from the Center for Assessment for Policy Development of Foster Care and Early Childhood Development:
“It is in the context of secure attachment relationships that children receive the physical contact and attention they need, are provided with food and shelter, learn to interact socially and develop expectations about their social interactions and others, develop language skills, and are provided with safe opportunities to explore themselves and their environment.”
Without active adults in a child’s everyday life, certain fundamental skills are never established. Children’s identities, self esteem, and psychological health are compromised if raised in the system without ample guidance for learning life skills.
Life skills taught by demonstration through a loving parent or caregiver help children make sense of themselves and their environments. And they lay the foundation for the development of language and emotional regulation.
Guardian ad Litems make dramatic impacts on children in the system. Roth said many of the volunteers become important role models for these kids and go above and beyond the call of duty.
Roth, a former police officer in Philadelphia, became a guardian after searching for volunteer work that would be meaningful. “I had a friend who was a Guardian,” she said. “I really didn’t even know what one was. I took the training and found out it was right up my alley."
Classes are offered several times a year and can be taken online. The process is usually completed in about two months, Roth said, and new guardians are gently transitioned into their role after mentoring with an experienced guardian.
“We are desperate for volunteers,” Roth said.
According to Sylvia Simmons, who is the Senior Guardian ad Litem attorney for Hernando County, there are approximately 77 volunteers appointed to more than 300 children.
Special resources are available for teens 16 to 18 who are learning independent life skills before they age out of the system.
Kristie Ruppe, a private practice criminal attorney and a pro-bono attorney for the Guardian ad Litem program, is concerned about the older teens in the system. While programs are in place to assist these kids, many are falling through the cracks.
“It’s not that the system is failing,” she said. “There are just too many children in need and not enough resources to help them. Unfortunately many of these kids have been in my office on criminal and civil charges because they never learned how to get a driver’s license or pay their bills,” Ruppe said.
Bottom line…there is a drastic need for awareness to the program and its need for volunteers and financial funding.
Fine Lines Boutique in Spring Hill was alerted to the Guardian ad Litem Program through Simmons, who also is one of the store’s dedicated customers.
At Simmons’ suggestion, Fine Lines decided to support the Guardian ad Litem Program for their annual charity Fashion Show, scheduled for Saturday, April 6, at the Palace Grand in Spring Hill.
Sandra Roth and her husband, Doug Roth, have been financial supporters for two years running.
The event, called “Magic in Your Closet,” benefits a different charity each year.
“We always do a charity event every year,” said Janet Schuller, co-owner of Fine Lines Boutique.
The fashion show events use as many as 25 models, all customers who volunteer their time.
There will also be a luncheon, auction and prizes. Tickets are $30 and can only be purchased at the shop until the Friday before the event.
Fine Lines Boutique, co-owned by Janet Schuler and Lois Diaz, is an upscale shop that focuses on women’s clothing, casual, semi-casual, career, and dressy for sizes 2 to 14.
“We’re geared toward the customer,” said Schuller. “If it doesn’t look good, we won’t sell it.”
Fine Lines Boutique carries accessories, purses, jewelry and an assortment of popular clothing styles for most tastes and budgets.
The business has managed to stay afloat even during a rough economy.
Perhaps their success is at least in part due to their charitable giving.
The annual charity event is the highlight of the year for Schuller and Dias. They’ve helped the Dawn Center, Hospice and other important organizations that focus on keeping the donations inside Hernando County.
Their goal for this year’s event is to surpass last year, “and we did very well,” Schuller said.
In addition to meeting a financial goal, Fine Lines hopes to raise awareness to the Guardian ad Litem program, thereby encouraging volunteers.
Anyone interested in helping as Guardian ad Litem volunteer, contact Lynn Sennett, recruiter, at (352) 274-5231or visit www.guardianadlitem.org.
For more information about Magic in Your Closet, contact Fine Lines Boutique at (352) 666-8843 or visit the shop at 5168 Mariner Blvd. in Spring Hill.