Many know Mary Griffin as the longtime treasurer of the . Recently Griffin ended her six year tenure to devote more time to another cause close to her heart -- the Hillsborough County Guardian ad Litem program.
The nationwide government-run program selects advocates to speak on behalf of abused or neglected children who cannot speak for themselves. The volunteers in the GAL program are court-appointed, and are from all walks of life.
Griffin completed the GAL training program in April, and received her first case in May. She is very passionate about her work with the program, and strongly encourages Westchase residents to consider volunteering. Here's what Griffin shared with Patch about GAL:
Patch: How did you get involved in the GAL program?
Griffin: I heard a commercial on the radio for GAL. There is not a lot of advertisement for the program. Much of it relies on word of mouth around the community.
Patch: Which category of children recieve a GAL volunteer?
Griffin: The cases involving children which are brought to the attention of the court and are under the supervision of the Department of Children and Family are eligible for a GAL volunteer. Some are foster children and some are not. Case severity is graded on a numerical scale, so the most severe cases are assigned to a GAL volunteer first.
Patch: What are characteristics of Hillsborough children in need of a GAL volunteer?
Griffin: Approximately 2,600 children are currently in the system in Hillsborough County alone, from infants to older children, and only about 800 GAL volunteers. Children in need are from all over Hillsborough County, including nicer areas like Westchase, not just the bad neighborhoods. Ages range from birth to 18 years.
Patch: How many cases are assigned to each GAL volunteer?
Griffin: Volunteers get to choose their case(s), and can select the number of cases they are comfortable with. I currently have one case (domestic violence,) but will probably ask for another case soon.
Patch: What criteria must GAL volunteers meet to be eligible?
Griffin: Volunteers must complete an intensive training program, which is six weeks, two nights per week, for a total of 30 hours. But there is no test at the end of the training program. Each volunteer must pass a Level 2 background screening, which includes fingerprinting. Also, they are asked to provide a one year commitment to GAL. There are no other commitments, just an interest in helping the children out, time and enthusiasm.
Patch: What are the volunteer types in the GAL program?
Griffin: Volunteer types include Pro Bono Attorney, Master Guardian, and Volunteer. Master Guardians are 5-year veterans of the GAL program and serve as mentors.
Patch: Are the GAL Volunteers generally a combination of the sexes?
Griffin: Yes, there is a good combination. There are a lot of men in the program, which is good because there are a lot of boys. There are also husband and wife teams.
Patch: What are the requirements for GAL volunteers?
Griffin: Volunteers are required to visit the child once a month, but the majority of volunteers surpass this quota because they are interested in helping the child they are assigned to and seeing the case progress. Visiting the relatives, teachers and doctors are several responsibilities that go along with taking on a case. After a case is dismissed, a six-month follow-up is required.
Patch: How many hours per month do GAL volunteers need to dedicate?
Griffin: There is no set number of hours, really. But an average of ten hours per month can typically be expected for a case.
Patch: What do you like best about being a GAL volunteer?
Griffin: I like knowing that I have a positive impact on one family at a time.
E-mail Mary Griffin at marykgriffin47@gmail for more information on becoming a Guardian ad Litem volunteer.
Other helpful websites:
- vfcgal.org (Voices for Children)