Tamara Lakey has something to offer people who want to make a positive difference in the lives of children in Wilkes County who have been abused or neglected.

As district administrator of the Guardian ad Litem (GAL) program for the 23rd Judicial District, which includes Wilkes, Ashe, Alleghany and Yadkin counties, Lakey is seeking more of these volunteers to look out for and be a voice on behalf of the best interests of children placed in foster care by the departments of social services in those counties.

A GAL is a trained community volunteer who is appointed, along with a Guardian ad Litem attorney, by a District Court judge to investigate and determine the needs of abused and neglected children petitioned into the court system by virtue of being in foster care.

After undergoing training, a GAL volunteer is placed with one family with no more than three children. Volunteer get to know their children and speak with everyone involved in their lives — biological parents, foster family, social workers, teachers, doctors and therapists and others. The information gathered, along with recommendations, is reported back to the judge so he or she can make the best future plan possible for them. With a GAL’s input, a judge can make more informed decisions about each child’s case and is better equipped to make the child’s interest the primary focus.

The problem is that Wilkes County continues to see an increase in the number of children who have been placed in foster care as a result of being abused and neglected, leading to an equally dire need for more volunteer GALs to advocate for them. Many foster care cases in Wilkes result from children being found living in homes where drug abuse and/or drug dealing is prevalent.

Lakey said 52 of the children in foster care in Wilkes don’t have their own GAL advocate because there aren’t enough of these volunteers to go around. She said this reflects the fact that even though the number of GAL volunteers increased this year in Wilkes, it hasn’t kept up with the continued high numbers of Wilkes children placed in foster care.

According to NC Child, which advocates for the welfare of all North Carolina children, the number of Wilkes County children in foster care per 1,000 was 23 in 2017 and 21.4 in 2016. Statewide, it was 7.2 per 1,000 in 2017 and 7.1 per 1,000 in 2016.

Wilkes DSS had an average of about 230 children in foster care per month in the first eight months of calendar 2019, just slightly less than in the same period of 2018.

Lakey said applications are being accepted for the next GAL training class, which will begin soon. She said applications need to be completed online as soon as possible at the NC Guardian ad Litem Program state website www.volunteerforgal.org.

A person with a full-time job can be a GAL advocate because a great deal of the investigation can be done in your free time, over the phone, or by email. Volunteers commit to at least four hours per month on a case and they are usually encouraged to serve until the case is completed, usually in a year. Court visits are few, usually one time every three-six months.

For more information, contact Lakey or any GAL staff member in the Wilkesboro office at 336-651-4421 or GAL.District23@nccourts.org. The Facebook page is NC Guardian ad Litem – District 23.

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