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South Carolina

Future Uncertain for Vulnerable Adult Guardian ad Litem Program

Protection for the most vulnerable

Brenda Hyleman, a volunteer with the Vulnernable Adult Guardian ad Litem program, poses for a portrait on the University of South Carolina campus on Monday November 19, 2012.

Brenda Hyleman is one of 15 volunteers in the Guardian ad Litem pilot program, which advocates for vulnerable adults in 15 counties. Without reauthorization, the program will end on June 30. — David Walter Banks

"Just as we have an effective volunteer guardian ad litem program to protect vulnerable children, so we need one to protect vulnerable adults," said Teresa Arnold, AARP South Carolina associate state director for advocacy.

The proposed legislation would house the program under the guardian ad litem program for children.

"It needs some entity that has the resources to recruit, train and maintain a volunteer staff on a statewide basis," said Eddie Weinberg, managing attorney with South Carolina Legal Services, a member of the program's advisory committee and one of its trainers.

Acting as advocates

Most of the program's volunteers are social workers, although some are involved in other aspects of adult care.

"We had to put a program in place very quickly, and we had no resources to provide extensive training," said Patton. Volunteers receive one day of training.

"The people we're dealing with are the most vulnerable. If they had a support system or family, many would never go into DSS custody," Patton said. "Of course DSS is doing what they think is necessary, but having someone else involved that is impartial and not part of the system … is important. What we are aiming to do is to make a recommendation as to what is in the best interest of the vulnerable adult."

Since the program began, roughly 100 people have been served. If it is reauthorized and expanded, AARP South Carolina expects to help to recruit more volunteer guardians for the program.

Lezlie Patterson is a writer living in Chapin, S.C.

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