Volunteer Guardians ad Litem, or “VGALs,” are speaking for the many children in the foster care system.
Whenever social services files a petition with the courts alleging that a child is abused or neglected, the court must appoint a GAL to represent the child’s interests in the proceeding. If the GAL is not an attorney, the court also must appoint an attorney to work with the GAL to represent the child’s legal interests.
These volunteers are simply asked to be detectives, seeking out answers about a child’s well-being. They help get children the services they need. They sometimes have to be the tattletale when parents aren’t showing up for visitation or meeting their required responsibilities.
Out of the 1,300 children who live in foster care in Snohomish County alone, 400 of those children have nobody to represent them as they move through the system.
On Tuesday, VGALs plated 400 pinwheels outside the juvenile detention center in Everett. The pinwheels represent the 400 children in foster care that need a voice.
“My focus is to get more people willing to volunteer,” VGAL Chris Richey said. “We need to get more people out here to do what we’re doing so there are no more pinwheels.”
The volunteers add “color to all the black and white paperwork that the judge is looking at,” Jessica Gurley, the community services supervisor for Snohomish County Superior Court, said.
There is definitely work to be done to improve the lives of foster children.
“The system isn’t perfect,” Adam Cornell, a deputy prosecutor in Snohomish County, said. Cornell sees a lot of young people in trouble, many of whom come from the foster care system.
Children who live in foster care are at greater risk of drug addiction and homelessness.
“They’re more likely to be people who are criminal defendants, the kind of people I prosecute from time to time,” Cornell said.
About half of the 10,000 Washington children in foster care do not have a VGAL.
Richey has represented more than 20 children, some of them babies.
“If we can get them to realize someone cares, that there is someone that will help speak for them, we can turn the direction their life is headed in,” Richey said
Richey represented Cornell, who was put into foster care at five-years-old and now urges people to become VGALs.
“There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think that I’m damn lucky to have what I have,” Cornell said.
Special skills or experience as lawyer is not needed to be a VGAL. A simple application and training are required. To find out more visit, http://www.wacasa.org/