Getting to Know Guardian ad Litem Paul Neumann
If you ask Guardian ad Litem Paul Neumann, he’ll tell you that the greatest misconception regarding the Guardian ad Litem Program (GAL) is the amount of time needed to volunteer. “It may feel like a large responsibility but the time spent is really not that much,” reveals the long-time volunteer, who travels regularly around the country as a statistician for ESPN. While guardians typically spend around ten hours a month working on a case, including visits with the child, assumptions about the level of commitment required are what keeps so many potential volunteers from pursuing this incredible opportunity. To learn more about the Guardian ad Litem program, we spoke with Paul, a volunteer in Miami-Dade County for more than 15 years, and got the real story behind what it’s like to be a Guardian ad Litem volunteer.
How did you get involved with the Guardian ad Litem program?
One night, I was just sitting on the couch, watching late-night TV, when I saw an ad for the GAL program. I thought to myself, ‘I should do that, and if I call right now, someone will call me back in the morning and push me to do it.’ So many people who think they should do something for their community say they will and put it off. It’s human nature, so I called right away.
What are some of your responsibilities?
You’re an advocate for the child. Basically, what a GAL does is we visit the child at least once a month, either at home or at school. We primarily do it at home because we want to see where the child lives to make sure that the child is safe. You also advocate for the child in court and let the judge know what the child needs as far as services, medical care, tutoring, etc.
Do you undergo training as a GAL?
Training now for a GAL is 30 hours. It can be done all at once in a week or can be done in stages, with some of it online also if it’s more convenient for the volunteer.
People think being a GAL is a too large of a commitment. What is your take?
I think people make themselves as busy as they want to make themselves. There’s really no such thing as ‘I don’t have time to do that.’ We all seem to make time for things we want to make time for—watch one TV show less a week or spend half-an-hour less on Facebook. You make a commitment and it’s tough to say you don’t have time. Everyone makes time. I play a lot of tennis, so what’s one less match a month if it means helping a child?
How much time to do you really spend as a GAL?
If you have one child or one case, it really doesn’t take more than four or five hours a month of your time. You can make it more by spending more time with the child, but all that’s needed to make sure the child is taken care of is about an hour per week.
What’s the most positive impact you’ve seen as a result of your involvement?
The kids know that there is someone they can count on when there’s been so many people they can’t count on. When I see them, you can see the happiness in their face. They know that someone cares. They’ve gone through so many years with people who don’t care, especially people who are supposed to love them, so it’s nice for them to see someone who cares.
Do the kids ever share how they feel?
When they find out you’re not getting paid, they’re pretty shocked too. They know that certain people have jobs but you’re doing it because you want to, not because you’re getting paid, so it hits home with the older kids. We all need to feel that someone cares about you or is concerned about you, otherwise it’s pretty easy to give up.