ST. ALBANS — With close to 300 children in the custody of Department for Children and Families (DCF), guardians ad litem are needed more than ever in Franklin County, according to Prevent Child Abuse Vermont (PCAVT).

Guardians ad litem (GALs) are court-appointed advocates for children and required in all juvenile cases by law.

Although there are nearly 300 children in state custody locally, there are only 22 GALs in Franklin County and only five have the ability to take on more cases, according to Linda Johnson, executive director of PCAVT, which took over the task of recruiting guardians in January.

“It’s really a sad state of affairs,” said Mary Stanley, PCAVT’s GAL coordinator. “Those poor children. We need to support them in every way, shape and form that we can.”

Jody Edelson, of Bakersfield, became a guardian almost three years ago, after five years as a social worker and more than 30 teaching at Enosburg Elementary School.

“I’ve always been interested in protecting children,” she said. “As a teacher, I used to see children who I thought were in need of help and I’d call DCF because I was required to do so. Now I’m seeing it from the other side where I’m actually someone who can do something, can speak for the children and hopefully get them help and get their families help.”

Elaine Carpenter, of Fairfax, just finished her first year in the program, joining immediately after retiring as the supervisor for the early intervention program at Northwestern Counseling & Support Services (NCSS). Before that, she was a special educator at a preschool in Danville for 20 years.

“My life’s work has always been in Vermont supporting young children and families so it’s a continuation of that, but on a part-time basis,” she said.

Currently on her plate are 12 cases, five of the children up for adoption. “I was really clear from the beginning I did not want to do this full time,” Carpenter said. “So I have a small caseload.”

Edelson’s caseload is roughly 30, with 15 children up for adoption. “I’ve stepped up more than once to take on extra cases because there’s nobody else to do it,” she said.

To learn more about the challenges and rewards of being a guardian ad litem, pick up a copy of the weekend Messenger or subscribe to our digital edition.