More than 2,200 abused and neglected children live within the Fourth Judicial Circuit, which includes Duval, Clay, and Nassau Counties, yet most of us are unaware of their plight. They are infants, toddlers, and children, the majority below 12 years of age. They are daughters, sons, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews. They are our neighborhood children and our children's classmates. In April, we pause to recognize National Child Abuse Awareness Prevention Month.
We are deeply grateful for the 467 Statewide Guardian ad Litem Office Volunteers in the Fourth Judicial Circuit. Unfortunately, there are 639 abused and neglected children whose cases are appointed to the Statewide Guardian ad Litem Office who are missing the impact of a volunteer or pro bono attorney from their community.
Banners will be hung, blue ribbons will be worn, and pinwheels will be strategically placed in highly visible areas. Local governments will proclaim support for the work being done on behalf of these children, and local media outlets will cover the story. If we are lucky, we will experience a momentary surge of inquiries from people who ask, "What can I do, and how may I help?" The problem is that there are another 11 months in the year. National statistics show a child abuse report is made every ten seconds, with nearly fifty percent of these reports resulting in a child abuse or neglect investigation.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adverse childhood experiences affect long-term health. For example, childhood traumas, regular beatings, belittling, or witnessing domestic violence – physically harms the body and brain for a lifetime. Individuals exposed to six or more adverse childhood experiences have an average life expectancy two decades shorter than those who reported none. In addition, physical disease, mental health, addiction disorders, and quality of life issues are all linked to early childhood trauma.
The Statewide Guardian ad Litem Office represents Florida's abused, abandoned, and neglected children in court and the community. Through the collaboration of a national best practice multi-disciplinary team that includes a Guardian ad Litem Attorney, child welfare professional and hopefully a trained volunteer or pro bono attorney from the child’s community. The team provides legal representation for children's legal interests while assisting the child in expressing their needs and wishes. Our unique approach allows us to support the whole child, addressing their physical, educational, mental, emotional, social, and legal needs. In 2022, the Statewide Guardian ad Litem Office represented over 36,000 children in Florida.
You can help, take action, and make a difference in a child's life by joining the Statewide Guardian ad Litem Office Child Advocacy Team. Learn more by visiting www.guardianadlitem.org or calling 904-525-0473.