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Guardian ad Litem Program raises awareness of children’s mental health

Written by Akers Editorial

Many maltreated children may be facing greater trauma during the coronavirus pandemic because teachers, neighbors and coaches don’t see them as often and can’t report suspected abuse.

Marcia Hilty, a licensed clinical social worker who is the director of the Guardian ad Litem Program in the 5th Judicial Circuit, says the cases that are coming in are severe.

“We’ve had a death, several children with broken bones and many cases of gross neglect due to parental substance abuse,” Marcia says.

To prevent these situations, 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.”

Marcia and Laurie agree 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, which is what they want for all children.

Diana Gisonni, nurse and director of recruitment and 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 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 at

To learn more about becoming a volunteer with the Guardian ad Litem Program, register for its upcoming online information session on May 21. There are two sessions available, at 11am or 7pm. To register, contact Diana Gisonni at or call 352.812.6971. You can also visit


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