Every child deserves to be loved and feel that they matter. We get the opportunity to tell them that,” said Laura Gruebel, president of the Friends of Wake GAL (Guardian ad Litem), as she helped load graduation gifts for 11 high school seniors into a Wake County van in June.
The gifts were donated by the nonprofit Friends, which provides goods and services not funded by the county for children in its foster care program, such as education advocacy, backpacks, computers, camp grants and orthodontic care.
The state of North Carolina established the Offices of Guardian ad Litem (GAL) Services in 1983 to help protect neglected and abused children through foster care.
“Typically, what happens is someone will call in a report of suspected abuse or neglect, and then we have investigators who go out. If they determine that the child is unsafe, then the child enters our custody,” said Toni Bush with the Wake County HHS Child Welfare Department.
If a petition alleging abuse or neglect of a juvenile is filed in district court, the judge appoints a volunteer Guardian ad Litem advocate and an attorney advocate to provide team representation to the child. Guardian ad Litem advocates are trained for eight weeks, supervised and supported by program staff in each county of the state.
“If we can’t remediate this situation, we have a placement unit, so immediately we try to place them with a foster home or a viable relative,” said Bush.
The Wake GAL service handles 500-600 children a year of all ages, primarily from families that are under-resourced where one or both parents also have history in the child welfare system.
Light the Way
Friends raised $120,000 last year for programs and projects such as the education advocacy program, which pairs children needing tutoring with private tutors from NC State. It also runs the annual holiday Guardian Angel Tree. “The children fill out a wish list, then we find sponsors in the community that will buy the items, wrap the gifts and then we collect them all and deliver them to the social workers,” said Gruebel.
Most of the funding for Friends comes from donations. It recently received a $30,000 grant from the Wake County Bar Association in July. One of the biggest fundraisers is the annual Light the Way Gala which will be held this year on October 18 at TRAINE at Seaboard Station.
“Our projects bridge the gap between what the county can provide and what the children in our community need to thrive,” said Gruebel. “I hope these kids get a sense that they’re important when they see the whole community coming around and pitching in.”