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Arizona

Extra Eyes for Vulnerable Adults

Volunteer 'court visitors' protect against unscrupulous guardians

The goal of the Guardian Review Program (PDF) is to visit each ward of the court every 24 months, said Star Felty, volunteer coordinator for the program.

About 50 volunteers are being recruited to become court visitors. They receive a half day of training followed by on-site visits with court staffers or more experienced volunteers. Volunteers provide their own transportation but receive mileage reimbursement. A criminal history check is conducted on all volunteers.

Maricopa County's Guardian Review Program began in 1992 with the assistance of an AARP Foundation grant. It operated with about 30 volunteers until county budget cuts in 2007 reduced its staff by about a third.

AARP pushed for 'visitors'

Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch brought together 19 judges, lawyers and citizens in 2010 and 2011 to find ways to improve judicial oversight of guardianship.

Sylvia Stevens, 84, of Mesa, served as the committee's AARP Arizona volunteer representative and pushed for the revitalization of the visitor program.

There are no official estimates of how many cases of guardian abuse there are in Arizona, but Felty estimated that three or four out of every 100 visits over the last several years by investigators and court visitors have identified "issues of concern" in the guardianships.

Marquetta White, 60, of Mesa, a state government retiree who earned a master's of social work in May from Arizona State University, believes volunteering as a court visitor will put her new skills to work.

She recruited her husband, Bob, 61, a retired city of Mesa parks and recreation department director. They were trained last summer.

"The program is giving us responsibility and a chance to impact a person's life," he said.

For more information on volunteering as a court visitor, call Felty at 602-506-8200 or send an email to grp@superiorcourt.maricopa.gov.

Maureen West is a writer living in Phoenix.

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