12/27/07 — Volunteers help Guardian ad Litem children at Christmas

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Volunteers help Guardian ad Litem children at Christmas

By Nick Hiltunen
Published in News on December 27, 2007 1:57 PM

Adopted children who go to non-family homes have a stipend of state money set aside to pay for Christmas.

Not so for children who go to live with a relative, say members of the 8th Judicial District.

"A lot of times, those families are already struggling to provide for their own families, let alone the relatives that they take in," said Family Court juvenile case coordinator Allyson Smith.

In response, court volunteers with the 8th Judicial District have been holding their "Every Child Deserves a Christmas" program since 1999, when it served about 35 children.

In 2007, the coordinators said, the program probably served about 120 children.

The pew-style seats of Courtroom No. 2 in Wayne County Court were proof of the program's reach -- the benches were filled with presents wrapped and unwrapped.

Volunteers with the Guardian Ad Litem program see all sorts of homes when they work with families -- some with heart-breaking conditions, Guardian Ad Litem District Administrator Colleen Kosinsky said.

"Vermin, kids who go to school in their pajamas because they don't have any clean clothes to wear," Mrs. Kosinsky said.

And those are just the immediately visible problems, Mrs. Kosinsky said.

"Anything you've ever seen in a television movie has happened here in Wayne County" and elsewhere in the judicial district, Mrs. Kosinski said.

In the past year, some cases the juvenile and family court divisions have handled have been tough to watch, she said.

"This year, we've had some horrific sexual abuse cases, where little children have been sexually molested by caretakers who are supposed to be protecting them," Mrs. Kosinski said.

One of those included a biological father, Juvenile Case Coordinator Kim Allison said.

"We've also had children living in homes that I wouldn't want my pets to live in -- without water, without heat," Mrs. Allison said.

In their years of gift-giving, the family court staff have learned to tailor their gifts to those receiving them.

"There are teenagers, so we went out and bought things that teenagers would like," Mrs. Kosinski said.

Many local busineses and others also donated to the program, the volunteers said.

They sorted through their shopping spree earlier this month, chatting about which gifts they thought would fit each child best.

Some of the packages were fitted with notes that ended with the words "God loves you very much."

The Guardian Ad Litem program is currently serving more than 320 children, and another 300 or so have had cases that had "some type of outcome" like placement with a family member, Mrs. Kosinski said.

"There's a lot of children out there who have come into the system this year because of abuse or neglect," Mrs. Kosinski said.