TAMPA, Fla. - Guardian Ad Litem – or GALs – is an organization that fights to protect and advocate for children. But one local mother and a Guardian Ad Litem discovered a problem: attention and care to the ones who need it the most.
"[I] really wanted to focus on foster children who had suffered egregious abuse or substance exposed," Katie McCarey told FOX 13. "I found that the Guardian Ad Litem program really did that best. So I joined our local Guardian Ad Litem as a Master Guardian Ad Litem, and then I built my swat team."
S.W.A.T. – a special weapons and tactics team – sounds heavy duty, and it is. McCarey said it needs to be for the problem she's up against.
"Out of all the counties in Florida, Hillsborough has the most substance abuse babies. Even Miami-Dade doesn't have as many as we do." McCarey explained. "It is really heartbreaking knowing that there are children in a NICU room., not being visited, not being held. It really broke my heart to see that those kids are lying there without that visitor and parental engagement."
Provided by Katie McCarey
It's a problem that doesn't see a lot of attention: newborns who are substance exposed or victims of abuse are taken away from their family situation.
That – often times – leaves them all alone in the NICU without any type of parental interaction.
"The catalyst for the SWAT team was when I saw a little boy at another hospital who had been lying there for three weeks. He had not been touched except for clinical staff, but he didn't have that exposure, that skin-to-skin contact," McCarey recalled. "No one really picked him up, changed him and held him in any type of motherly way. I kind of knew right then that we really have to come in, almost like a parent would and hold these children, and bring these children blankets and clothing and pillows and just really engage them."
This SWAT team is made up of 30 volunteers, they frequent a number of hospitals in our area.
These volunteers, this special weapons and tactics team, is armed to provide contact, care and comfort.
"What keeps me up at night is that there are hospitals in every single county and state in the U.S. and no one holds them like we do." McCarey said.
The goal is to hopefully expand to every county in the state and then across the nation.
If you're interested in volunteering, click here: www.galtampa.org.