Kids’ advocates sought

Published 10:19 pm Wednesday, August 3, 2011

For the staff and volunteers of Voices for Kids of Southeastern Virginia, there is nothing more important than giving children a voice in the court system.

From the perspective of Joyelle Saunders, the program’s executive director, Voices for Kids volunteers are a constant in the lives of children who have seen people endlessly come in and out of their lives.

“We want to try our best to make sure we aren’t creating a revolving door in that child’s life,” she said.

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The program workers are assigned to cases involving child abuse, neglect and other issues to be neutral parties who can impartially assess the facts of each case for the courts.

“More often than not, you’re not going to have a person who is going to be there to speak primarily for the child,” Saunders said. “What we provide is an unattached person that doesn’t necessarily have the regulations or other things to lead up to.”

Voices for Kids, which was started in 1992, has locally run branches throughout the country, and the Southeastern Virginia branch started serving Isle of Wight County in 2004.

In 2008, the nonprofit organization extended its service to the courts in Franklin and Southampton County, and now it is in the process of heading to Suffolk.

Saunders said when Isle of Wight Judge William Moore started the group, he wanted it to cover the whole Fifth District, which includes Franklin, Southampton, Isle of Wight and Suffolk.

“We’re just continuing with that and making sure the vision is enacted,” she added.

But the group also faces challenges as it moves into Suffolk. The biggest problem is finding the people needed for a successful operation.

“Our caseload is increasing, and that’s just with the three localities,” Saunders said. “We will definitely need more volunteers.”

Adding Suffolk to the coverage area is expected to double the group’s load, which means many more volunteers, especially ones who can serve Suffolk, will be needed.

Saunders said the main characteristic she looks for in volunteers is an enduring commitment to the cause.

“Commitment is a big thing,” she said. “These are children who have been through some experiences that we do not even want to imagine, and we definitely want to make sure going in that this is a commitment.”

The group will host a volunteer orientation meeting Aug. 25 at the Isle of Wight Ruritan Building, and Saunders encourages anyone who is interested in volunteering in any of the localities to attend the meeting.

The group will not start accepting Suffolk cases until it has arranged for enough volunteers to cover the load, she said. But that could come as early as the end of the year if enough people are interested in helping.

In addition to recruiting volunteers, Saunders said the group is getting acquainted with the other organizations it will work with, such as the Department of Social Services.

The group also is working on developing a board of directors for Suffolk that can help the group leaders better understand the needs of the city.

For more information on Voice for Kids of Southeastern Virginia, visit