‘I am a voice for the child’

Apr. 05, 2014 @ 05:20 PM

WARRENTON — Jennifer Davis sees plenty of children when she is on the job. She’s a substitute bus driver for Warren County Schools.

So what does she do with her spare time? For one thing, she’s troop leader for her son’s Tiger Cub Scout troop.

And she volunteers to represent children as a guardian ad litem, representing those who have been removed from their homes because of neglect or other negative conditions.

“I am a voice for the child,” she said.

She has been a guardian for nearly four years.

The guardian ad litem program is available in every county in North Carolina. When children are placed under juvenile court jurisdiction because of abuse or neglect, a volunteer is assigned to speak for them and protect their interests.

“We need more guardians ad litem, especially in Warren County,” she said.

In that time, she has been the voice for 10 children. She is currently representing three siblings, ages 11, 8 and 4.

“The guardian ad litem, the parents and foster parents discuss issues and concerns and try to come up with a plan to address those concerns,” Davis said. “Everyone is part of the effort to reunify the children with their parents. It doesn’t always work, but that’s our goal.”

They look for resources in the community where the parents can get on the right track to get their children back.

“The kids are smart,” she said. “They know something is wrong, but they can’t understand it. They’re scared and angry. Sometimes they lash out. That’s where I come in. I sit down with the children and explain who I am and why they are here. I tell them, ‘This is what needs to happen before they can go back there.’ They need to know that their voice is heard. We put what the child wants in our report. Then we put what we think is best.

“Sometimes they say, ‘I want to go home.’ Sometimes a child will say, ‘I want my skateboard.’ ”

Davis grew up in Warren County and graduated from Warren County High School. She earned a bachelor’s degree at Shaw University and enrolled in a master’s degree program at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.

Her son, now 6 years old, was born in Wilmington.

“In Wilmington when I had my son, I was by myself,” she said. “I was a single mom. I needed my family.”

She came back to Warren County to be near her mother.

Family means a lot to Davis, who has four sisters.

“I’m used to a big family,” she said. “I’m used to family cookouts. My grandmother had 10 children. I thought I wanted to be a foster parent.”

But in a course on adoption, a speaker described the guardian ad litem program, and that changed everything.

“Right then I decided to become a guardian ad litem,” she said.

She went through 30 hours of training over a five-week period and on July 1, 2010, was sworn in by Judge Randolf Baskerville.

Davis devotes eight hours a month to these responsibilities.

“I visit the children, call to see how they are doing, talk with social workers and go to meetings,” she said.

A major responsibility is showing up in court when decisions are to be made about a child. An attorney is their to represent the child’s legal interests.

“The attorney does the talking in court, unless the judge asks us something,” Davis said. “ ‘Okay, Ms. Davis, as guardian ad litem on this case, how do you feel?’ ”

She has found the work very rewarding. “I met some of the greatest people through this program,” she said

Most of all, she gets satisfaction when she sees the system work. The goal is to do what’s best for the entire family.

“Sometimes reunification is not the best option,” Davis said. “The child might be put up for adoption or placed with another family member.

“When reunification does happen and you know you’re a part of making it happen, it’s really fulfilling.”

Contact the writer at dirvine@hendersondispatch.com.