What Is a Child Advocate?
A Child Advocate is a trained volunteer who works as a Court Appointed Child Advocate appointed by the Superior Court Judge to represent the best interest of abused and neglected children within our court system. The program in Stevens and Ferry Counties is referred to as the Child Advocate Program (CAP).
The volunteers are people who have a heart for children and who have set aside time from their busy lives to speak for the young children who may not have a voice in court without the volunteer. These volunteers are people like you who take the time to receive training and then spend a few hours a month to follow this child through the court system.
These volunteers are you, because every year children are put into the system through no fault of their own. These children are victims. They are victims of violence, psychological and sexual abuse. Some have been neglected and abandoned by their parents.
That leaves them to the care of the State represented by the Department of Children, Youth and Families. DCYF finds services to best serve the family with the goal of family reunification. As a Child Advocate, you work as a fact finder for the judge who ultimately must make the decisions concerning this child. The Child Advocate researches the background of the child's case reviewing documents, interviewing the child, parents, family members, school officials and attending all meetings concerning the child. The Child Advocate assigned to the child stays with this child through out the child's stay in the court system.
After gathering this information, the Child Advocate represents the child's best interest with a report to the court. In court, you continue to represent only the child's best interest. This report you have made is added to the information provided to the Court from DCYF and attorneys representing the parents. The information provided to the court from all sources, help the Court make life-changing decisions for the child. Resolution may come with a return to the parental home with parents who have learned new parenting skills, guardianship or adoption.
Children over 12 have the right to an attorney to speak for them. Children under 12 need a voice that speaks to their best interest. That voice can be yours as a Child Advocate Volunteer.
What Type of Training is Required?
Once volunteers have completed the application/interview process and background check, volunteers are required to complete a 30-hour training course. Training content includes courtroom procedures, the social service and juvenile court systems, interviewing and communication techniques, and the special needs of children who have been abused and neglected.
How Much Time Does It Take?
After training the average involvement by a CAP volunteer is 10 - 15 hours per month. Volunteers are asked to make a one year commitment to the program.
What Are the Duties of a Child Advocate/GAL?
CAP volunteers are assigned to a case by a judge. The case is one of abuse or neglect. After the case is assigned the Child Advocate researches the background of the case; going through documents and interviewing everyone involved as well as the child. Reports are made to the court so that the judge is provided with the information that will enable him/her to make the best informed decision for the child.
The Child Advocate conducts an independent investigation on behalf of the child they represent. This investigation can include interviews with medical professionals, mental health staff, sources in the neighborhood, the child's family, school officials, law enforcement personnel, and the child.
The Child Advocate assures that the court ordered services are provided to the child and family. They also monitor case progress. Children are often unable to articulate their hurts, fears, and needs. They may not know that they have options or that their own interests may prevail over the adults who have abused or neglected them.
The Child Advocate assures the child's wishes are heard but that the best interest of the child is presented to the court and agencies dealing with the child. Volunteers are the advocate for the child during the difficult judicial process.
The Child Advocate presents information to the court in written form and oral testimony at each hearing in the proceedings to assist the court in determining what is in the child's best interest.
CAP Has Three Roles
- To serve as a fact finder for the judge by thoroughly researching the background of each assigned case.
- To speak for the child in the courtroom, representing the child's best interest.
- To continue to act as a "watchdog" for the child during the life of the case, ensuring that it is brought to a swift and appropriate conclusion.
Ready to volunteer? Contact Valerie Schmoltze at (509) 685-0663 to make a difference in a child's life.