In Swain, Macon, and Jackson counties, the rights of the most vulnerable children are being lost in the shuffle of a strained system. This month, of the 206 children currently before the court for having been abused or neglected in these counties, 20 of those children had no volunteer advocate to speak up for them before the court. In our society, the basic needs and rights of children are entrusted to their families, but when the family – for whatever reason – is unable to meet those obligations, children are placed in the foster care and child welfare system. That system is full of compassionate lawyers, judges, social workers, and foster families, but according to recent statistics, more than 437,000 children have been placed in foster care nationally – around 470 are in the 30th District in Western North Carolina alone. This intense need can strain the system to the point where they are simply unable to protect the rights of each child. So a child who has already suffered in an abusive home, enters the foster system which places her in three or four different homes in just a few months. Or the two siblings who lost their mother to incarceration are split up and living on different sides of the same county. This isn’t just a problem, it is nothing short of a violation of their basic human rights, in a country there should be no need to have to fear such things. What can I do? A new Guardian ad Litem (GAL) training course will begin in the middle of June; and the GAL program is currently accepting applications for child advocates in Swain, Macon, and Jackson counties. The GAL Program is part of the North Carolina Guardian ad Litem Program, a division of the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts, which recruits, trains, and supervises volunteer advocates in every county across the state to represent and promote the best interests of abused, neglected, and dependent children in the state court system. Volunteer advocates work with an attorney to form a plan that ensures these children are placed in a safe, permanent home. The North Carolina Guardian ad Litem Program thrives on volunteerism, and its vital work is only made possible by dedicated volunteers who are committed to the cause of keeping children safe from future harm. If you have an interest in becoming the voice for a child, contact the local GAL office at (828) 587-2087, or find out more about the program / submit an application by visiting www.volunteerforgal.org or www.facebook.com/ncGuardianAdLitem.