COVID-19 Not Stopping Volunteer Advocates Who Help Abused Children

By Jessica Stanfield

During this period of uncertainty, we’re all adjusting to a “new normal” as our lives have been turned upside
down. We’ve changed the way we work, shop, eat, and socialize.

The optimist in me has appreciated extra time at the house to tackle home improvement and spring cleaning
projects, and I’m enjoying precious family bonding time. Across Southwest Florida, many families are
sitting down together at the dinner table, playing board games and munching on popcorn during movie night.

Unfortunately, that’s not the reality for every child. So many adults are out of work right now, which adds to
their stress levels, and far too often their release comes in the form of drugs, alcohol and physical abuse. For
these children, being stuck at home for weeks on end is the last place they want to be. Since students are not
attending school, they have no adult to confide in and no one to notice bruises or emotional scars.

The sad truth is that while so many things have been halted because of this pandemic, COVID-19 can’t stop
child abuse. In fact, child abuse typically increases during hurricanes, natural disasters, and emergencies such
as this.

During the coming weeks and months, the dependency court system likely will see an influx of children who
have been abused, neglected, or abandoned by their parents. Guardian ad Litem’s court-certified, volunteer
child advocates, as always, will be acting as a voice on their behalf. Although the virus is preventing in-
person interactions, we’ve heard inspiring stories of our dedicated child advocates Facetiming as they read
bedtime stories to children, ordering pizzas for families so tired foster parents can enjoy a night off from
cooking, and having conversations about fun, engaging activities they’ll do together after authorities
determine it’s safe to resume face-to-face interactions.

These child advocates are working tirelessly to ensure that children are seen and heard and that their needs
are being met. Children need us now more than ever.

In March, Guardian ad Litem Foundation, 20 th Judicial Circuit, canceled its inaugural fundraising gala based
on CDC guidance. This event would have raised money to recruit, train and support volunteer child
advocates, as well as provide financial assistance to help meet a child’s basic and developmental needs.
Proceeds also would have helped purchase basic necessities, clothing, movie tickets and theme park tickets
for children, as well as pay for tutoring and participation in youth sports and clubs.

Postponing the gala and subsequent fundraising events was necessary to protect the safety and wellbeing of
our community, but the Foundation’s needs for funding still exist, and likely will be amplified heading into
summer.

COVID-19 has stopped a lot of things in Southwest Florida, but the coronavirus can’t stop good.

Generous individuals, businesses and organizations have stepped forward to help those experiencing
hardships, including an anonymous donor who has challenged Guardian ad Litem Foundation with a
matching gift opportunity. If we raise $20,000 by June 30, donations will be matched dollar-for-dollar,
doubling the impact that your gift can make in a child’s life. Now and always, there is truly no gift too small.

Over the past few weeks, our child advocates have helped provide necessities through our Children’s Needs
Program and assisted families with technology as students transitioned to virtual learning. They’ve linked
arms with community agencies to provide a network of goods and services. And, most importantly, the
Foundation has continued its longstanding tradition of never denying child advocates’ requests for support.
Although the times are unknown right now, we are committed to ensuring this stays the norm.

For more information, please visit VoicesForKids.org/ways-to-give or call 239-533-1435.

Thank you in advance for your generosity. Together we can transform the lives of countless children who
need it the most.

About the Author
Jessica Stanfield is Executive Director of Guardian ad Litem Foundation, 20th Judicial
Circuit.

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