Joann Herbert admits children are her passion.
In the past she served on or chaired Columbia County's Child Fatality Review Board and Child Abuse Protocol. Currently, Herbert chairs the Columbia County Foundation, which provides a wealth of needed items and services for foster and underprivileged children in the county.
Herbert's longest running volunteer effort is her 12 years on the county's Citizens Panel for Foster Care Review Board
"It gives me a real sense of accomplishment," she said. "If you want to change an underprivileged life, sometimes, this is the way to do it. If you have the will to change and a difference in a child's life, then the Citizens Panel is a great thing to serve on."
The panel assists in reviewing compliance with the court's orders in the cases of children who are removed from their familiesbecause of neglect or abuse. Volunteers review cases and make recommendations to the juvenile court for children to return home or be placed for adoption, said Brian Stutts, the panel's coordinator.
"Our only concern is that child. Nothing else matters except that child," Herbert said.
The panel was created 12 years ago as a watchdog and to provide children some stability in their lives. Statistics show that once a child has been in the system for 18 months, they usually grow up in the system, Herbert said.
The panel is currently made up of eight people on two separate panels. The county is currently looking for additional volunteers.
"We would like to get at least half a dozen," Stutts said.
Each year, Stutts sendsout 20 to 30 information packets to potential panel members. Of those, 10 may go through the initial 2-day training. People usually start dropping out immediatelybecause of time restraints among other things.
"By the end of the year, if I have got two or three that are left from the previous year, I am doing pretty good."
Herbert spends more time working for the panel than the once-a-month review sessions. She, and most other panel members, meet before each review to pre-review the cases by reading them and noting any questions to ask at the review. Members are encouraged but not required to attend court proceedings usually on Wednesday afternoons, Stutts said.
Herbert said you can be involved in the panel, for as little as four hours a month.
The panel makes no decisions, only recommendations to the juvenile court judge. It is not a sit-back-and-observe kind of volunteering, Herbert said. The task requires keeping abreast of issues and actively participating in panel discussions.
Some panel members get frustrated at the lengthy legal processes.
"People have to understand that the court system takes time and they may not see results immediately," Stutts said. "Sometimes it takes a little time. Some people king of get frustrated with that."
New volunteers will attend an initial two-day training session set for Nov. 21-22 and receive five more training hours throughout the year, Stutts said.
"(My experience on the panel has been) really wonderful," Herbert said. "It really has. I can look back and see when we have made a tremendous difference in a lot of children's lives. Sometimes you feel like you have failed because you could not get done what you thought was right.
"But, it is an impact. No matter what you do, it is an impact on a child's life."
For more information, call Stutts at (706) 860-0661.
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