Thursday is Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day, and the Florida Guardian ad Litem Program is more focused than ever on the mental health of the abused and neglected children we represent.
Many maltreated children face greater trauma during the pandemic, since teachers, neighbors and coaches don’t see them as much and can’t report suspected abuse. Media accounts show a drop in calls to Florida’s abuse hotline, but worse injuries in the cases that do come in.
Yet however children are removed from their homes, says Shirley Holland, a Guardian ad Litem circuit director with 35 years’ experience as a psychiatric nurse, “All of them have been subject to some kind of abuse or neglect…We have complex cases in the dependency system.”
To Marcia Hilty, a Guardian ad Litem circuit director with a license in clinical social work, the children’s sense of loss is “profound and unrelenting. They’re removed from their parents, homes, pets, schools…That can be the underlying reason for acting-out or depressive behavior.” Part of Guardian ad Litem’s role, she says, “is to figure out what level of intervention is appropriate.”
To that end, the Program trains its staff and volunteers on the impact of trauma and how to get children the care and treatment they need to recover.
“Guardians ad Litem can advocate for the right services and supports to lessen the impact of trauma and build resilience,” says Laurie Blades, the Program’s director of children’s behavioral health advocacy. “And by giving them the right kind of attention, we can promote positive mental health and overall development.”
Hilty agreed Guardian ad Litem volunteers help children “by listening to, being with and advocating for their best interests. They instill hope and encourage wellness. In the long run, this benefits all of us.”
Holland, with her experience in psychiatric nursing, says she believes “there can be 100 percent recovery from abuse. But the system doesn’t necessarily teach that – so every day should be Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day.”
The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) hosted the first Awareness Day in 2005 to bring national attention to the importance of caring for every child’s mental health. Like so much else this year, Awareness Day has gone virtual. Resources are online at
- The National Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week: Resources, information about virtual events at ffcmh.org/awarenessweek.
- The Texas Health and Human Services Commission and the Texas Institute for Excellence in Mental Health at the University of Texas, Austin: events planned throughout May. Information is available at cmhaustin20.com.
To learn more about the Guardian ad Litem Program or to become a volunteer, visit GuardianAdLitem.org or call 1-866-341-1425.