Tampa, FL – “The people who put aside their personal lives to help out kids like me are beautiful people and greatly appreciated,” – A.Q., former foster child.

May is National Foster Care Month and you can make a difference by opening your home or opening your heart and offering time and support to a child in the dependency system. These children are in a difficult and scary situation through no fault of their own and could use a consistent, caring adult to help them get through it.

A child in foster care may have experienced physical, psychological and/or emotional trauma, only to endure long periods of uncertainty in the system as they wait to go home, be adopted or simply see what happens next. Some are fortunate to be placed in individual foster homes and others may be lucky enough to have a Guardian ad Litem (GAL) to be an advocate for them. With approximately 3,000 children in foster care in Hillsborough County alone, there are not enough foster parents or Guardian ad Litem advocates for them all.

Children need a safe place to live and an adult they can trust. Knowing a foster family cared enough to share their home makes a tremendous difference to a child, even if that isn’t immediately obvious. Having a GAL volunteer—someone who listens, checks in, follows up, holds the system accountable and puts the child’s best interests before all others’—can make a lasting difference as well.

“Statistics show us that children with a Guardian ad Litem, [as opposed to a foster child who does not have one], do better in school, receive more services and often find a forever home more quickly,” said Tabitha Lambert, Guardian ad Litem 13th Circuit director. “GAL volunteers not only advocate for children within the court and child welfare systems but also form relationships with them that last for years. A number of young people who age out of the foster care system will maintain a relationship with their volunteer into adulthood.”

When GAL volunteers are appointed by judges, they get to know the child and find out what they need to heal and thrive. Engaging youth and families can lead to increased family stabilization and expedite reunification or adoption.

Now more than ever, it is important to recognize the selfless work of volunteers and help support foster families who experienced social isolation and financial instability while dealing with the challenges of school and childcare facility closures during the height of COVID-19. As the former foster child said, all of these efforts “are greatly appreciated.”

To learn more about the Guardian ad Litem program and its volunteers, visit www.galtampa.org or call 813-272-5110. Information sessions are available via phone.

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