Child advocate volunteers needed in Manatee County

- A special force of volunteers act as voices for those in need, but Manatee County says it needs more than 100 additional volunteers to help children navigate the legal system. 

Guardian Ad Litems speak up for children who've been taken away from their families.

Toni Latortue is the circuit director of the 12th Guardian Ad Lietm Program and she is on a desperate search.

"We do need volunteers to be able to advocate for the children," she said.

Latortue says the county needs more than 100 volunteers to help children in Manatee County.

"It is rewarding in they see the children reach permanency, once you see them either reunited with their families or they are in their forever home than that is the rewarding part," she said.

Guardian Ad Litems are court appointed to children who have been removed from their homes.

Over the last year, the need in Manatee county has skyrocketed. There are 821 children who need Guardian Ad Litems, but only 200 volunteers. They give a voice to children who can't speak for themselves.

"A lot of children do not want to come to court if they are teenagers and if they are little they can't. To have that person that you know that has the best interest your interest at heart than that is awesome," said Latortue.

To become a guardian you must be 21 years old and pass a background check. From there, guardians go through training.

Joy Holloway is one of many that shadows children and then reports back to the court on a child's family life, how they are doing in school, if they have any medical needs and anything else going on in the child's life.

"We are like fact finders, we go out get the facts, we talk to a lot of people and then we put it all together and present it to the court with an opinion on what we think should happen," she said.

It takes a big heart for a volunteer to speak up for those who can't. In the end, Guardian Ad Litems are the ones who help shape a child's future.

"There is every opportunity in the world to make a difference and no difference is too small it all counts in the life of children," said Holloway.

For more information on how to become a volunteer visit: www.12gal.org

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