Guardian Ad Litem Raises Awareness of Children’s Mental Health

By Meaghan Goepferich Posted on May 18, 2020

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.

Guardian Ad Litem Raises Awareness of Children’s Mental Health

According to Marcia Hilty, a licensed clinical social worker who is the Director of the Guardian ad Litem Program in the 5th Judicial Circuit, the cases that are coming in are pretty severe.   “We’ve had a death, several children with broken bones, and many cases of gross neglect due to parental substance abuse.”   

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 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 that “…by developing a greater awareness of the impact of trauma and by listening to, being with and advocating for their best interests, volunteers make all the difference in a life of an abused or neglected child.  They instill hope and encourage wellness.  This is what we want for all children.”

Diana Gisonni, nurse and Director of Recruitment & Training for the 5th Circuit notes, “Mental health is as important as physical health.  We have to pay attention to the whole child.”  

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

To learn more about becoming a volunteer with the Guardian ad Litem Program, register for our upcoming online information session on May 21st. 2020. There are two sessions available – 11am or 7pm.  To register, please contact Diana Gisonni – [email protected] or call 352-812-6971.  You can also visit our website at


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