Maybe you saw the garden of blue pinwheels in the front of the Chester County Courthouse last month. Even though the pinwheels are gone now, if you saw them, your awareness of child abuse prevention was raised. Estelle Stevenson wants to raise it a little more.
Stevenson is the coordinator of the Chester and Fairfield County offices of the Guardian ad Litem (GAL) program. She has been with the GAL program since October.
The words ad Litem mean “for the suit” or a guardian appointed by the courts. Stevenson and her volunteers planted the pinwheel garden for two reasons: to raise awareness during Child Abuse Prevention Month (which is April) and to advertise the need for more GAL volunteers. They also held a candlelight vigil at the garden site at the courthouse on April 9.
“The Department of Social Services started planting pinwheel gardens a couple of years ago,” Stevenson explained. “The spinning pinwheels represent the innocence and simplicity of the child, and the carefree childhood that all children deserve to have – but not all get to have, because of child abuse and neglect,” she said. Guardians ad Litem work for the child in those cases of abuse and neglect.
“The Guardian program works in the best interest of the child; they report directly to the court system on what is in the best interest of the child,” she said.
“We wanted to plant the pinwheel garden to make the community aware that child abuse and neglect does happen in this community, and Guardian ad Litem volunteers are working towards the best interest of the children every day in this county,” said Stevenson.
Stevenson says child abuse can include physical neglect, which means a child’s needs are not being met, inappropriate shelter, inappropriate food, medical neglect, which means a child’s medical needs are not being met, physical abuse and sexual abuse.
The sign at the pinwheel garden urged everyone to turn towards a safer world for children. One way to bring about that safer world is to become a Guardian ad Litem volunteer. Both the Chester and Fairfield County offices are in need of additional volunteers to be guardians.?”I will have training beginning May 12 for volunteers who are interested in becoming guardians in Chester and Fairfield Counties,” she said.
To become a Guardian ad Litem, volunteers must undergo 30 hours of training and then they have monthly contact with the children they are assigned to, as long as the case is open. Monthly in-service training is also given.
Sandra Hardee has been a Guardian ad Litem for 19 years. She says she is a volunteer because she wanted to give the children in abuse and neglect cases a voice.
“Every time I picked up a paper and read about a child’s death or one being abused or neglected, the thought came that I’d like to do something about that. The training seems overwhelming, but for every case you are on, you learn from it. Each case is different, and your eyes are opened to the neglect and abuse,” she said.
“When you come to court, you are the voice of a child. Everyone else, momma has an attorney, daddy has got an attorney, DSS has an attorney. In some cases, I’ve been the only one on the side of a child in that courtroom,” she said.
“You feel like you can’t make a difference, but you can.”