'A chance for a better life'
Jill Norment wanted a better life for her son Will after her husband, Richard, died 15 years ago. Now, she seeks a better life for children in foster care as a guardian ad litem volunteer.
Norment, 55, first heard about the program 10 years ago at her church. She learned others at First Presbyterian Church were volunteers. The former teacher assistant was drawn by the need for permanency for those who came from broken homes through abuse, neglect, drugs, violence or abhorrent living conditions. On the 20th anniversary of the program, Norment was sworn in by Judge Bob Brady as a volunteer, and she's still with it as it celebrates its 30th.
Guardian ad litem volunteers advocate and promote the best interests of abused and neglected children in court. They conduct independent investigations -- including visits with the child, parents, teachers and others involved in the childrens' lives -- to determine the needs and wishes of the child. Teamed with a program attorney, volunteers provide representation, and a voice, in court.
"We are the judge's eys and ears," Norment said from her Windsor Street home.
Norment is able to devote much of her time to the cause. She spends her time on a laptop computer investigating cases and writing and preparing reports. She visits homes at least once a month, admonishing parents and advising children.
"I'll tell parents to get their act together, or (tell) the kids that they might be better off being adopted," she said. "Unfortunately, we don't save them all."
Caldwell County has a disproportionate number of children in foster care. As of Aug. 31, 258 children were in child protective services, compared to 224 in Catawba County, which has twice the population of Caldwell. Only 30 guardian ad litem volunteers in Caldwell County work the 258 cases. Children wind up either being adopted, re-unified with their birth families or relatives, or in a handful of cases remain in foster care until they turn 18 and are no longer considered wards of the state.
"We see the same five scenarios in all these cases, it's just the players are different," Norment said.
Norment has no plans to stop advocating for children.
"It's something I should be doing, giving a child a chance for a better life," she said.
To become a guardian ad litem volunteer, visit www.ncgal.org, or call 1-800-982-041, or visit www.facebook.com/ncGuardianAdLitem.