River Hills resident Rene Vojnovic is on a mission.
As a recruiter for the Guardian ad Litem program, Vojnovic is charged with finding volunteers to provide representation for children in court proceedings.
It's not easy task, said Vojnovic, who came to the Hillsborough County Guardian ad Litem program as a volunteer before she was tapped to be a recruiter.
"Currently there are 2,954 children who have been removed from their homes due to abuse and neglect," Vojnovic said. "For each one of them to have a guardian ad litem, we need an additional 1,100 volunteers."
A Guardian ad Litem is appointed by the court to advocate for a child who has been removed from the home because of alleged abuse, abandonment or neglect. The Guardian ad Litem becomes familiar with the child and the child's case and makes recommendations to the court to help ensure a safe, caring, stable and permanent environment.
"We need everyday people from all walks of life," Vojnovic said. "The children need you so badly."
Right now, there simply are not enough volunteers to go around, said Vojnovic.
"When I was working in a group home, there would be children waiting there for someone to walk up to them and say, 'Hi, I'm your Guardian ad Litem,' " she noted. "When that wouldn't happen, I heard a child say, 'I'm not even good enough for a Guardian ad Litem."
Now, more than ever, Vojnovic said these children desperately need someone to stand up for them.
"It's the economy," Vojnovic said. "People have stressors and that can turn into substance, drug and alcohol, abuse and that can result in child abuse. From January to April of this year, we had the same number of kids coming into the system as we did in all of 2011."
Vojnovic said volunteers must be at least 21 years old. A background in law is not a prerequisite.
Guardians visit the child once a month and typically attend court hearings every three to six months, she said.
Guardians, Vojnovic added, are "the eyes and the ears of the court."
To volunteer, contact Vojnovic at 813-393-9084 or email Rene.Vojnovic@gal.fl.gov.
To learn more about the program and requirements to become a Guardian ad Litem, visit GALtampa.org.