People often ask, “What does one need to become a Guardian ad Litem?” The answer is very simple – a heart to help a child in need. Throughout the period in which a child is involved in a dependency case, there are a number of individuals assigned to look after the child’s welfare; attorneys, case managers, caregivers, and therapists all look after the specific aspects of the child’s adjustment and development. The Guardian makes sure that all of these people are working together in a way that will have the most effective outcome for the child. All a Guardian needs to do is pay attention, ask the right questions and try to fill the void of what is often overlooked. This was the case for Amelia Guzman.
Amelia and her family came to the U.S. from Nicaragua when she was only three years old. It was not long after that the family began to struggle with the cultural differences as well as their lack of education. Her parents had an on and off relationship, and Amelia grew in an environment marked by arguments and fights. At night, while her mother worked night shifts, she was left under care of her great uncle who sexually abused of Amelia for two years. Tired of being physically and psychologically abused, Amelia rebelled against her parents at the age of twelve and told the truth at school. At first, the court ordered the father to leave the house, but Amelia started skipping classes and was finally removed from her home and transferred to a shelter. At that point, she was appointed a Guardian ad Litem, Mirta Fuentes. “She was a very nice lady” says Amelia. “I despised everything about the court system and I couldn’t even stand up to say hello in court. If I knew Mirta was going to be there, I loved it because she would speak for me.”
Mirta would eventually become very involved in their family life. She called Amelia daily just to see how she was feeling and visited her frequently offering her support. She often brought essentials to help Amelia and her mother who were struggling on their own after Amelia’s father had been ordered to leave the home. After Amelia ran away from the foster care shelter when she was 14, and returned pregnant at 15, Mirta only offered loving support, giving Amelia a basket of baby items that included a blanket that Amelia’s children still use to this day (Amelia had another child at age 17). It was Mirta’s kindness and compassion that helped Amelia through those difficult years and gave her strength to obtain her high school diploma and vocational training while caring for two children and holding down two jobs.
Today Amelia is a professional in the medical field and mother to three wonderful children. She has devoted her life to breaking the cycle of abuse in which she was raised and to providing her children with opportunities to thrive. She has obtained her AA Degree in Sociology and is currently completing her Bachelor’s Degree at FIU. But most significantly of all, she has been a Guardian ad Litem since 2013 and now helps children who are going through the difficulties that she went through with the same loving compassion that Mirta poured into her. “I basically treat them as they are my kids, because that is exactly what they are. I give them advice; I am always available just as my guardian was for me”. Truly, a GAL has the power to change the course of a child’s life by just giving of their time and their heart.