04/20/09 — Guardian ad Litem recognizes 47 local volunteers

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Guardian ad Litem recognizes 47 local volunteers

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on April 20, 2009 1:46 PM

The Guardian ad Litem program recognized 47 volunteers with a luncheon Friday.

Volunteers from Wayne, Greene and Lenoir counties met at the Outback restaurant. The counties make up the 8th Judicial District in which the program operates.

Colleen Kosinki, who oversees the program, said the district has 139 volunteers altogether who advocate for youths who become involved in the court system, but she noted that the program is facing budget cuts along with other state-sponsored services in the face of the economic downturn.

"Unfortunately, the cuts are not over," she said. "As we struggle, imagine how the families struggle. We already see an increase in stress and domestic abuse in our district. ... Try to be patient with us as we try to do more with less."

It takes a special kind of person to volunteer for the Guardian ad Litem program, said Cynthia Coley, program supervisor for Wayne County.

"The person has to be really caring, with a heart for the children and committed and calm. You have to be genuine, because children can read you. Everything else we can teach them," she said.

The volunteers have to be committed to seeing the child's case through to the end, because cases often take time to be processed, she said. Most cases don't take longer than a year, but some can and do, she added.

The volunteers conduct independent investigations of the situations that led the children to be mentioned in criminal court cases. They go out and visit the children and assess their needs and wants. They talk to the parents and other relatives, school and mental health officials and sometimes even the child's doctor, Mrs. Coley said.

Then, the volunteer makes a recommendation to the court based on his or her findings and what is in the best interest of the child. The Guardian ad Litem staff then matches the volunteer's recommendation with what can actually be accomplished through the legal system.

Most of the time, a therapist is involved and a lawyer is always a part of the process. Mrs. Coley said the volunteers become so in tune with the children they can pick up on any hesitation to work with a therapist of the opposite sex.

"They can request a therapist of the same sex just by a phone call, without having to even go to court. That is truly advocating for the child. Whether the child's hesitation is real or imagined, we still respond to that. We have to, because they are so damaged by the time they come into the system, you have to listen to what they're saying."

The Guardian ad Litem staff match up the volunteers with children according to whom the volunteers prefer to work with. For example, some volunteers prefer to work with teens. The program includes teens up to the age of 17. Others prefer to work with younger children, even babies straight out of the hospital, Mrs. Coley said. She noted one case in which the mother who gave birth tested positive for drugs, as did the newborn child

And there are some mothers who have children in the program more than once. In too many cases, Mrs. Coley said, a woman will become pregnant while her other case is still ongoing. Over the past six months, she said, seven mothers in Wayne County have become pregnant or delivered a new baby after having been in the same situation.

Sometimes it takes teamwork for the volunteers to keep up with the cases, Mrs. Coley said.

The program has two husband-and-wife teams and even sister teams and best friend teams. The additional help is invaluable, she said.

"I like the teams. They get to talk to each other about what is going on. Otherwise, it's confidential, and you can't share it," Mrs. Coley said. "The program works well, and I feel like we do some good. Sometimes at the end of the day, you feel like you've actually made a difference in a child's life. And that's a good feeling."