ADDISON COUNTY — Addison County is in dire need of a new infusion of Guardians Ad Litem, community members who volunteer their time to make sure the voices of abused, troubled and/or neglected children get heard in court proceedings.
That’s the word from state and local officials who said Addison County is down to about a dozen Guardians Ad Litem, some of whom are having to field more than a dozen cases simultaneously due to a dearth of volunteers available to take on the workload.
“We try to spread out cases as much as we can,” said Tony Krulikowski, coordinator of the Vermont’s Guardian Ad Litem Program. “When (a guardian) takes on a new case, it takes time to talk to everyone involved in the child’s life. I try to keep the cases low. Some (guardians) in Addison County are keeping 15 cases, which is way too high. They shouldn’t have more than five or six at one time.”
Those who agree to serve as guardians go through an intensive, three-day training process that includes shadowing experienced Guardians Ad Litem. Once cleared for duty, the guardians can be appointed by the court to serve as special representatives for infants, minors and mentally incompetent persons who need help ensuring their best interests are protected during legal proceedings. Guardians tend to work most intensively in probate matters and divorce, child neglect, abuse and paternity suits.
Guardians can also be asked to represent a child — in lieu of a parent — in education matters.
Attorney Stephanie Foley of the Middlebury law firm Deppman & Foley has served as a guardian for the past five years. She agreed that there seems to be a pressing shortage of guardians in Addison County and hopes more people will step forward.
It is a role that requires a time commitment, said Foley, who spent three full workdays on Guardian Ad Litem-related matters during one week earlier this month. Guardians are increasingly being thrust into more pivotal roles in cases affecting children and family relationships, according to Foley.
“The last case I was involved with ended up in the termination of parental rights,” Foley said.
Elizabeth Farr has been dubbed a “super guardian” by many of her colleagues. She’s had as many as 30 cases at one time. Not all of those cases are active simultaneously, but they still require her monitoring.
Farr is currently retired after a lengthy career as a school teacher and administrator. She became a Guardian Ad Litem in 2000.
“It was a way for me to get back working with kids,” she said. “I’m not a person to sit around the house.”
Farr sees her duty as representing to the court the best interests of the child to whom she has been assigned. And she’s noticed an increasing number of children coming through the court system on a range of issues, such as parental custody questions.
Being a guardian has taken Farr to schools and courthouses throughout the state, as well as in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. She explained that children she agrees to help in Addison County sometimes move to other locations, and Farr must sometimes follow their cases in other jurisdictions. Her job also involves going to schools to represent the best interests of her young clients who are on Individual Education Plans.
“I’ve probably been to 60 schools around the state,” said Farr, who like all Guardians Ad Litem receives mileage compensation — but that’s all.
But of course the guardians don’t do it for compensation. Most do it because they know they are making a difference in a young person’s life.
Foley volunteered after hearing a judge encourage such activity.
“There’s no reason I can’t take it one step at a time and do my part,” Foley said.
Those interested in serving as a Guardian Ad Litem should go online to www.vermontjudiciary.orgto find an application. or call the Montpelier Guardian ad Litem office at (802) 828-6551.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]