A Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) volunteer is a trained member of the community, appointed by a judge to speak for the best interest of children brought into the judicial system. These volunteers participate in training where they learn about courtroom procedures, effective advocacy techniques, drug and alcohol issues, how to spot abuse, and a number of other topics that might relate to their cases. GALs are in contact with child welfare agency personnel as well as school staff, medical and mental health agencies, foster families, and anyone else who can speak to the parent/child relationship. They may attend staffings or meet with attorneys, but most importantly, GALs get to know the needs of their assigned children.
Hector Casado has been a GAL volunteer since 1997. He serves a minimum of 30 hours per month helping to represent abused and neglected children in the court system. Because he is bilingual, Casado has been especially effective in helping Hispanic children. Most of the children have been placed in foster or group homes, and Casado makes them feel comfortable and establishes their trust by speaking a familiar language when they are not always in a familiar setting. This is very important at a time when they are confused with what is going on around them.
Casado has gone a step further and is currently in the process of establishing parenting and anger management classes tailored specifically for the Hispanic population. It is targeted at those families whose children are involved in court proceedings. He has been effective in locating individualized services for Hispanic families and children in the Ocala area. This results in parents regaining custody of their children and families staying together.
In addition to volunteering as a GAL volunteer, Casado is attending seminars and conferences. He is constantly working to increase his knowledge of the system and of new services available for his guardian children. He searches out educational opportunities and then shares his knowledge with other guardian volunteers. He serves as a mentor and coach for many other volunteers and is always willing to listen and encourage them. He does all of this even though he is disabled. He has not allowed his limited mobility to hinder his efforts to serve those who need him in the community.