By Alexsa Leto, Guardian ad Litem Director for the Sixteenth Judicial Circuit, serving Monroe County
To prevent child abuse, we must understand it. That’s why you’ll soon see blue pinwheels and other signs that April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. The better we understand the long-term damage that trauma inflicts on children, the better we’ll be at preventing it.
For instance, we know childhood trauma – like regularly being hit or belittled, or witnessing domestic violence – can physically harm the body and brain for a lifetime.
We know that hurricanes have traumatized our entire judicial circuit, with vulnerable children often suffering the most.
And, we know that half of Florida children who come into the child welfare system are there due to parental substance abuse, compared to 39 percent of children nationwide.
How can we help parents struggling with violence, addiction, mental illness or poverty? And, keep more children in their homes and communities? That’s the discussion we at Guardian ad Litem want to have this month and every month.
The statewide Guardian ad Litem Program is studying how trauma manifested in the nearly 40,000 children in Florida’s dependency courts last year and how we can help the children we will serve in the future.
There are 157 children in the dependency system in the Sixteenth Judicial Circuit in Monroe County.
You can help them by learning about the programs and services offered in Monroe County, like mentoring children or families, serving on a committee or board, or writing your elected officials to ask for their support of child abuse and neglect prevention. You can donate by attending or hosting child abuse prevention fundraising events, or by making a personal contribution.
Can you volunteer as a Guardian ad Litem and be the voice for a child? Without an advocate, the odds are stacked against children in foster care. But, a child with a volunteer advocate spends 20 percent less time in foster care than a child without one. Studies show children with volunteer advocates receive more critical services than those without and are four times more likely to find a permanent home.
We are deeply grateful for the 79 certified Guardian ad Litem volunteers in the Sixteenth Judicial Circuit and to our many donors and community partners. Lasting change comes from their positive actions. To learn more about how you can help, call 305-292-3485 or visit www.GuardianadLitem.org.