TAMPA, Fla. — There are thousands of children in the foster care system in Hillsborough County who could use your help. They are in need of advocates to help them navigate the court system.
As a former child of the foster care system herself, Synthia Fairman knows how hard it can be as a kid.
That is why she decided to become a Guardian ad Litem to a 16-year-old boy.
"He's a kid," Fairman said. "It's not fair he was going through what he was."
In Florida, a Guardian ad Litem is a court-appointed representative who is tasked with acting as the 'next friend of the child'. It is their duty to help protect the child's best interests.
In Hillsborough County alone, more than 3,500 neglected, abused, and abandoned children have been removed from their homes and placed in the custody of the dependency court system. With no family available to speak for them, the child’s fate falls into the hands of the courts.
As a Guardian ad Litem volunteer, they have the power to help give these kids a voice.
"It's talking with parents, it's talking with caregivers, it's writing reports to the court with recommendations," said Tabitha Lambert, circuit director for Hillsborough County Guardian ad Litem Program.
Lambert said they can use you now as a volunteer during the pandemic.
"We've also seen some really severe, severe instances of child abuse, possibly due to being quarantined," Lambert said.
The most valuable gift you can give is your time, according to the Guardian ad Litem program in Hillsborough County. They say your guidance and words of encouragement are priceless to a child without a Guardian ad Litem.
However, if volunteering is not an option, a financial contribution is a great way to support the program.
The responsibilities are a little different because of COVID-19. Many of the meetings with the children and court dates are virtual to reduce exposure. The training is online now too.
Fairman maintains being a Guardian ad Litem is for anyone who wants to make a difference to a child.
"For him to call me and just ask to pick him up and get ice cream, meant something," she said. "That he needed me just as much as I needed him."
The boy she helped just aged out of the foster care system, but the bond they share still remains.