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Guardian Ad Litem program helps at-risk children in the Tampa Bay area

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Posted at 12:33 PM, Oct 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-21 17:27:10-04

TAMPA, Fla. — Domestic violence is not always adult on adult violence, it sometimes involves children. When that happens, innocent children can be taken from their home environment and placed in the foster care system. That is where Guardian Ad Litem volunteers come into the picture.

Guardian Ad Litem is part of a state agency that supports and represents children in the foster care system who were removed from their homes because of all forms of abuse, abandonment, or neglect. It's the Guardian Ad Litem and their intimate knowledge of an abused child that will carry the most weight in determining the next steps in that child's life.

“They're building a relationship with them so that they can come back to the program and the court system and make a recommendation for the best interest of that child with the team that we have put together,” said Yvonne Marrone of the Guardian Ad Litem Program in Hillsborough County.

The Guardian Ad Litem program also depends on more than just state or local dollars. Voices for Children of Tampa Bay also accepts donations on behalf of the program and is their biggest advocate.

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Perhaps the biggest boost happened when Bruce Arians became the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Arians and his wife Christine have publicly sponsored the program for over a decade. Their springtime fundraiser every year draws some of the biggest names.

Christine Arians was a Guardian Ad Litem for years. She said, “one of the things I found over the years that was the most important thing for me was just sort of model for the kids a different way of doing things. You know, drama doesn't have to be part of people's daily lives, but a child only knows what they live.”

Derrick Perez spent the first eight years of his life in the Hillsborough County foster care system and wanted to do more to help children in the Tampa Bay area. So over a year ago, he joined the program.

“Being in the system and understanding how truly broken it is, I wanted to find a role that would seriously make a difference,” said Perez.

The program is always in need of Guardians for one very sobering reason — the abuse of children in the Tampa Bay area is staggering. Marrone said Hillsborough County leads the state in the number of children in foster care.

That's the reason Kim Leinbach, a former city manager, came out of retirement and became a Guardian Ad Litem in June.

“What better goal could you have or measurement in terms of your life in terms of helping a child for heaven's sakes. It's very rewarding and very fulfilling in terms of working with children,” said Leinbach.

You can learn more about Guardian Ad Litem program by clicking here and the Voices for Children by clicking here.