ADULT 1: We are child advocates.
ADULT 2: We're investigators.
ADULT 3: Child centered.
ADULT 4: Life changing.
ADULT 5: An independent advocacy program.
ADULT 6: Making a difference.
ADULT 7: A guardian ad litem is a person who stands in the stat of a child in the court system. So its guardian for the case, that's the legal meaning of guardian ad litem.
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In North Carolina the Guardian Ad Litem Program is the voice of an abused or neglected child who comes into the court system.
NARRATOR: The question may be why do guardian's ad litem volunteer in the first place?
ADULT 8: Everybody wants to feel like they're making a difference.
ADULT 1: I like working with young people and I like trying to help young people.
ADULT 9: I do it because kids need somebody to look out for them.
ADULT 5: I wanted to do something to give back to the community and help the kids who are in need of our services.
ADULT 10 (Gloria Bailey): I wanted to be there for them. I wanted to be able to do something I wanted to be able to make a difference.
ADULT 11: Well this is probably, this will be the most rewarding thing that you've ever done for your community or maybe even in your own life.
NARRATOR: This is important work because the lives and future of children are at stake.
ADULT 3: We are in a program or in a setting that's hostile to non presented parties and children have traditionally been non-represented parties. Every one else has an attorney but the children at least that's been the case.
ADULT 12 (Michael Morgan): Typically, in the cases that we have in juvenile matters there will be governmental interests as well as the interests of the parent or guardian.
ADULT 3: In the guardian ad litem program allows for the children to have a voice in a court system that's formal and that's very not amenable to the interests of children:
ADULT 12: However, the guardian ad litem's office brings a unique perspective in that there is no particular interest that is being represented either the governmental interest or the parental guardian interest but what is in the overall best interests of that particular child or children and all the facts and circumstances.
ADULT 5: As a guardian you are able to conduct an independent investigation
ADULT 13: You're part a private detective you're a sluth if you like.
ADULT 2: I start out with wanting to meet the parents, the grandparents, any body I know who is involved with the child.
ADULT 14: It's like peeling an onion, it really is. It's um you start out with a whole bunch of vague information and then you get more and more involved and you get more and more details.
ADULT 20: (Diana Goodchild): You really can go out and talk to anybody, ask any questions and get all the information.
NARRATOR: A guardian ad litem takes all this information and crystallizes it into a thorough report to the court.
ADULT 21 (Gena Hixon): I read over it and over that report because it has to make sense to somebody that doesn't know anything about this case.
ADULT 22 (Debby Marsh): And then your report goes in along side the social workers report, the reports from therapist or mental health workers or whoever else is involved.
ADULT 23 ( Michael Morgan): There is always a need to have as much information as possible.
ADULT 24 (Gena Hixon): The judges really rely on the guardian's report because the guardian is an independent investigator.
ADULT 25 (Judy Rudolph): The judges that I have worked with typically give the guardians equal weight with the other attorneys and the other perspectives they hear the parents perspective, and they hear perspective of the department of social services but they also hear the child's perspective.
ADULT 26 (Michael Morgan): It's very refreshing in offering and often calming even to look to that third party and say from a detached stand point that mister or madam Guardian ad litem what is your perspective of all this
ADULT 27 (Michelle Reid Smith): It is an overwhelming feeling when the judge agrees with your decision and agrees with the recommendations that you've made. That's at the point you can finally sit back and tell I've done my job.
ADULT 28 (Michael Morgan): I've had the pleasure to experience and review guardian's reports on a regular basis and they're often very insightful, very meaningful, very helpful to perhaps reinforce one perspective or another that may have been brought to the judges attention for contemplation or may bring about some different perspective that no other party or principal has thought to bring up.
NARRATOR: It may surprise you. But providing this perspective doesn't take much time.
ADULT 29 (Esther Haywood): It doesn't take a lot of time to be a guardian ad litem.
ADULT 1 Gordon Booth): You have to operate on your own and I like that.
ADULT 31 (Esther Haywood): You can do the work, a lot of the work on weekends you can visit the children on weekends.
ADULT 32 (Joan Easley): You're able to do all of your investigative work on your own time and much of it is done on the telephone so I can do some of it at work, I'm off one afternoon a week and I try to arrange any visits I have during that time. So it's something I've been able to fit into my life.
ADULT 33 (Esther Haywood): It takes a sacrifice. But as I've been saying all along what you give is what you get in return.
NARRATOR: For guardian ad litem Bill Jackson giving meant saving the future for Corey Hollifield.
ADULT 34 (John Lewis): When this case came to light, I knew Bill was the one for this case. Bill is a very humble man, very kind hearted really cares about children. And he struck me as one who could get the job done.
ADULT 35 (Cathy Hollifield): When Bill Jackson got involved it was the first really positive thing that I saw.
ADULT 36 (Bill Jackson): I like children and I wanted to see that the child got a fair shake in life.
ADULT 37 (Dean Hollifield): The guardian ad litem began working with the DSS social workers and he was like a detective to a point.
ADULT 38 (Bill Leavell): Mr. Jackson had gone over to the parents home they lived in Tennessee conducted numerous interviews with them, with neighbors, relatives with other people involved in this case.
ADULT 39 (Larry Pfaff): I think that Judge Leavell was very impressed by Bill Jackson's testimony. The things that he brought out.
ADULT 40 (Dean Hollifield): Guardian ad Litem totally looks in the interest of the child, not me because I want to adopt Corey but the child himself.
ADULT 41 (Larry Pfaff): It wasn't a very one-sided hearing, it was there were a lot of facts that came out that I guess would be strong for both sides.
ADULT 42 (Bill Leavell): When there's Guardian ad Litem involved that means I've got more information and when I have more information I can make a better decision.
ADULT 43 (John Lewis): When Judge Leavell announced his decision I remember thinking that's a great decision, I'm glad he did, he's done that.
ADULT 44 (Cathy Hollifield): Dean called me I as soon as court was over and it was like we got custody of Corey.
ADULT 45 (Dean Hollifield): I cried, I cried.
ADULT 47 (Cathy Hollifield): I went, I couldn't even talk and it was emotions everything you could think of this I couldn't believe it.
DEAN: That was probably out, excuse me, I'm sorry, My whole life I had never had that kind of joy.
CATHY: If it wasn't for the guardian ad litem program I don't know where a lot of these children would be today.
BILL JACKSON: I had figured that this child's safety and coming on in the world was more important than anything else I might be doing.
CATHY: You can't give enough things to a man who's been a guardian angel. How can you thank him?
NARRATOR: For Randy Pollard, a guardian ad litem was instrumental in reuniting his family.
RANDY: You hear so many horror stories about children, and it's just nice to know that there is an organization like Guardian Ad Litem that's out there overseeing and making sure, there's a guardian angel. They were understanding, and they listened to me and as time went on, Ms. Johnson seen that I was really trying and that I loved my daughter that, that I could provide a good home for her. And it was just amazing to me that it took the time and effort that she had and like I said um I'm pretty convinced that she saved that child's life.
NARRATOR: It comes down to this, you will make a difference.
ADULT: I see what I'm doing and I see how it makes a difference in the lives of the children.
GENA HIXON: I'm not in this for any kind of special rewards or gold stars on my chart. I'm in this for the children
SHAKERRA JONES: They're a child, they, they don't have a voice. I'm their voice and if I don't speak from them, who will?
DEBBY MARSH: to give a child stability and the chance to have a normal life and the chance to do something with their life really hooked me in.
LAURA SHUFORD: I'm really making a difference this is a child's life you're changing their life for the better hopefully forever.
DIANA GOODCHILD: Those children will know that you were there in their life at a time when they needed you. When they needed somebody. And that somebody is a guardian ad litem.
ROSS MEACHUM: You have to accept the fact that you're gonna be able to do some good maybe just a little bit maybe like the pebble dropped into the still pond you don't know where those ripples are gonna end up but if you can do just a little bit of good in some child's life that's all the reward you need most of the time.
MICHEAL MORGAN: I shudder to think how much more difficult it would be if we did not have guardian ad litem persons that were willing to devote their valuable time and talent to come in and add a perspective to help the judge to determine whats in the best interest of the children.
JUDY RUDOLPH: This is a program that represents the interests of children and if you care about children and you care about children in the court system this is a good place to be. It's a very strong position and it needs to be people like you.