Meet Sergeant James Marshall, a Hollywood resident and retired police officer-turned Guardian Ad Litem (GAL).
“I initially started in the 1970s to represent kids in domestic-related litigation cases,” Marshall said. “GAL is about being a voice in court for Florida’s abused, neglected and abandoned children.”
Marshall, who is retired with 33 years of service from the Miami Police Department, started as a GAL for teen girls ages 14-16 about 2½ years ago, and currently serves younger kids from 6-9 years of age.
“The program’s mission is to advocate for the best interest of children who have been abused, neglected and abandoned,” Marshall said. “But GAL volunteers also provide emotional security for abused and/or neglected children.”
The founding of GAL
Also known as Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) in some states, GAL was founded in Washington in 1977 by Superior Court Judge David Soukup, who recalls “sitting as a judge in juvenile court and realizing there was no one in the courtroom whose only job was to provide a voice for those children.”
Gary Jackson is a volunteer recruiter for Guardian Ad Litem. “The program relies on our volunteers to represent the child(ren) in court,” Jackson said.
The state of Florida has full time GAL employees as well as volunteers.
Some of the employees who are currently working were once GAL volunteers. Some continue to work as volunteers in addition to being employed by the program.
How GAL works
GAL meets with different community leaders, faith leaders, and organizations to increase awareness about the program and recruit new volunteers.
“All of our volunteers attend an orientation, are interviewed and attend training,” states Jackson. “You get selected after the interview process by a GAL supervisor with the input of the person that interviewed you.”
- Volunteers are selected after their interview screening
- For the specific GAL program, volunteers are required to be at least 21 years old
- Each volunteer is assigned a case(s) and is supervised by a CAM (Child Advocate Manager)
- The ages range from newborn to 18-years-old and they come from all over Broward County
“Our goal is to have a volunteer for every child in our care to give them a voice,” Jackson said. “We are looking for passionate individuals who want to give our children a chance to success. Individuals who want to improve their community and someone who has the time.”
“It’s a professional volunteer program that you must be committed to,” adds Marshall, who serves children anywhere in Broward County or outside Broward County if his child is transitioning to ensure the child receives representation. “ You must possess that passion to be an advocate/voice for a child regardless of their economic status, race, ethnicity or religious background.”
Advocacy Training and other resources are provided if selected, and you will attend court hearings on behalf of the child/children assigned to you.
There is no age limit to volunteer, but you have to be physically able to care for younger kids and infants if selected for the program.
Marshall, who moved to Hollywood 14 years ago, also volunteers for the City of Hollywood African American Advisory Committee and is President of Hollywood Hills Civic Association.
If you would like to join Marshall and others in helping to serve Florida’s abused, neglected and/or abandoned children, you can fill out a short form online, or call 1-866-341-1GAL. You can also visit the office at 612 S. Andrews Ave., Suite 1000 in Fort Lauderdale or call the office at (954) 831-6214.