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If ever there was something worth investing in, worth protecting, worth fighting for, it is our future — the01-30-13guardian.gif country’s next generation — our children. Most children are raised in well adjusted and loving homes that offer them the support and resources they need to succeed, and this is something over which to rejoice. For children who are abused, neglected and beat down by the ones they trust, betrayed by the adults who are supposed to build them up and keep them safe, what recourse is there? Thankfully, the children of Cumberland County have many advocates. Guardian Ad Litem is one of them. A voice for children in court, the Guardian Ad Litem program consists of two attorney advocates, four program supervisors, a program assistant, a district administrator and approximately 100 trained community volunteers. This group of dedicated professionals advocate for abused and neglected children who end up in the court system through no fault of their own.

Jane Sutherlin has been a Guardian Ad Litem volunteer for almost four years. “We are the eyes and ears of the judges in the community,” said Sutherlin. “Our goal is to determine what is in the best interest of each child. Social Services has mandates they have to follow; we are not limited by the statutory stipulations. We get to think outside the box and think in terms of what is in the best interest of the children.”

Sometimes though, good intentions are not enough and current resources only cover so much. Sutherlin, along with other volunteers and state officials are moving to form a 501c3 foundation that will help fill in the gaps.

“When all other funding sources are exhausted we would look at the potential of picking up the costs. That might be things like special camps that are needed,” said Sutherlin. “If there is a child that is obese you won’t find a state agency that will pay to send them to a camp for overweight children. That is something we would look at funding. One of the primary things we would look at is making sure each child would have something for Christmas. Social Services does what they can and the Toy Drop that Fort Bragg runs provides gifts. It is wonderful when the military units are all here. When they are all gone things are sparse.”

Thanks to other communities in the state that have similar programs, the local foundation does not have to reinvent the wheel. New Hanover and Wake counties both have similar organizations that are successful in making a difference for kids. Sutherlin hopes that Cumberland County is not far behind, as this is something dear to her heart. “I was very fortunate. When our son was 4 months old, I was given the opportunity to adopt him,” said Sutherlin. “And I look at these wonderful children and think ‘there but for the grace of God ...’ He is 44 years old now and our lives have been so enriched by having him in our lives.”

To find out more about the Guardian Ad Litem program, visit www.cumberlandcountygal.com or call 910.475.3291.

Photo: The children of Cumberland County have many advocates. Guardian Ad Litem is one of them.

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