The Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) program in Winnemucca is seeking qualified volunteers to serve as voices and advocates for school-age children in the foster care system through Sixth Judicial District Court. 

The mission of the Nevada GAL program is to provide specially trained community volunteers the opportunity to advocate for abused and neglected children, by representing and protecting the best interests of the child and by assisting the court with safe, permanent and nurturing homes, as provided by Nevada Revised Statute 432B. 

Sixth Judicial District Court GAL Program Coordinator Eliana Sandoval said that Nevada law requires the county assign a GAL representative to child abuse and neglect cases, and previously there was no program in place as the state faces a critical shortage of qualified volunteers.

Sandoval said that the court is in the process of recruiting volunteers to fill a need due to the increase in child abuse in cases since COVID-19 hit. 

“With a direct correlation linking economic hardship with incidents of child abuse and neglect, new GAL volunteers are urgently needed,” said Sandoval in a press release. 

Exact comparative data regarding child abuse cases for 2019 through 2021 were not available through the court or the Nevada Division of Child and Family Services, but Sandoval said she has noticed an ongoing increased trend in community need for the services.

For 2020, the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Analytics reported 51 unique investigations regarding Child Protective Services maltreatment allegations in Humboldt County, with 17 substantiated and 39 unsubstantiated, totaling 51. 

Of the 17 substantiated investigations, the majority (eight cases) involved physical injury (neglect) and five cases involved negligent treatment (neglect). The remaining cases include one physical injury (abuse) case, one sexu-+al abuse case, one sexual abuse neglect case and three substance exposed infants. 

A GAL is a trained volunteer, sworn-in and appointed to a specific case by a family court judge; they advocate on behalf of the child(ren)’s physical, educational, medical, emotional and social needs. 

To be qualified to volunteer, an individual must be at least 21 years of age, not have arrests, pending charges or convictions for any offense involving abuse, neglect or abandonment of a minor child or for related acts that would pose risks to children or be required to register as a sex offender. Applicants must submit a written application with three references, submit to interviews, pass a background check and other screening qualifications and training. 

GAL volunteers are tasked with researching information and communicating with everyone involved in the child(ren)’s lives, spending approximately 8-10 hours each month on their case while maintaining contact with social workers, attorneys, parents, teachers, family members, foster parents, health professionals and the children themselves. 

GAL volunteers also establish a relationship with their child(ren) to understand their unique history while working to provide consistency and stability during an extremely difficult time in the child(ren)’s lives, asked to remain with their child(ren) until a permanent home is established. 

GAL volunteers are expected to conduct themselves with integrity, professionalism and respect while providing independent, objective and factually accurate information to the courts through quality review and reporting, acting as an active participant in the child’s case management team.

GAL volunteers are expected to continue to improve themselves through education and experience to improve the lives of the children they serve. 

According to Nevada Revised Statute 159A.0455, “The court may appoint a guardian ad litem or an advocate for the best interests of a protected minor or proposed protected minor who is the subject of guardianship proceedings conducted pursuant to this chapter if the court believes that the minor could benefit from this appointment.” 

“This is an opportunity to positively affect the outcome of a child’s case and fill the need that currently exists in our community,” said Sandoval. “The Sixth Judicial District Court currently has numerous cases in need of appointment of a Guardian Ad Litem.” 

Additional information can be found online at http://sixthjudicialdistrict.com/contact or by calling Sandoval at (775) 623-6371.