Advocacy in your Local Community

By Jared Simmons

According to the Children’s Home Society of North Carolina, over 10,000 children in North Carolina are in the foster care system as of 2018.  Since 1983, the North Carolina juvenile system has supported the role of the Guardian ad Litem in each case to be a strong voice for children in the courtroom. In 2015, I observed a minor child describe the sexual abuse and exploitation they endured. The child testified their mother had sold access to them for opioids and other substances while in the mother’s custody. I was shocked and appalled, and I quickly learned there was a growing need in our communities for child advocacy.

In 2016, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to be trained as a Guardian ad Litem, and was assigned my first case; four children in my local community needed an advocate in the courtroom to pursue permanency and achieve stability. As the Guardian ad Litem for the children, I was able to get my first look into the development of an abuse/neglect/dependency case in North Carolina. After a few years of visits, hearings, and advocacy, all four of those children have achieved permanency.

Over the years, each visit with the four children opened my eyes to the important work that goes on during the entirety of a juvenile A/N/D case from many different individuals; social workers, investigators, foster care parents, attorney advocates, medical professionals, defense attorneys, and prosecutors all play an integral role in the goal of achieving permanency for children who are thrust into the juvenile system. From the filing of a petition to the reunification of a child with their parents, or conversely, an order terminating parental rights, the guiding light of all involved is to achieve the outcome that is in the best interests of the child.

As North Carolina moves forward in juvenile justice reform in both A/N/D and delinquency areas, I have been fortunate to see the potential a Guardian ad Litem possesses in a child’s life, and that experience has molded me as a young attorney. I urge all individuals interested to reach out to their local Guardian ad Litem district offices or volunteer in your local community in your own way. Being a member of the Juvenile Justice & Children’s Rights Section at the NCBA has furthered my interest in juvenile law and allowed me to be more interconnected with those who share my passion for advocating for juvenile justice. If you are a law student or attorney, please sign up on our mailing list or join us at our next meeting with the NCBA.

Jared Simmons is a Staff Attorney in the Bill Drafting Division at the North Carolina General Assembly, and has been a Guardian ad Litem in Wake County since 2016. He graduated from the Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law in 2017, and is a member of the Juvenile Justice and Children’s Rights Section of the NCBA.