A group of volunteers for Columbia County's Juvenile Court system are helping provide a bright future for children in the area.
The Citizens Panel for Foster Care Review, which started in 1991, is made up of 16 volunteers who meet monthly to view case files of children taken into custody by the county's Department of Family and Children Services, and those who are in consideration to be removed from their home, said Juvenile Court Manager Margaret Tutt-Adams.
"They are so committed," she said. "They do this like they are getting paid greenbacks, but the thing is just the fact that they are doing something to help."
A luncheon was held Tuesday to give recognition and provide training for panel members.
"When you're looking out for children, it's no different than being a mother or father," Juvenile Court Judge Doug Flanagan told the group. "You have to give of yourself to make sure that the child is taken care of, so I want to thank you."
Each member was given a certificate and black attache case branded with the Juvenile Court's name.
The group is divided into three panels with each assigned to their own cases, said the panel's coordinator, Brian Stutts.
Augusta resident Floyd O'Neal became a volunteer seven years ago and said he has seen at least 75 cases.
"There are times when I'm ready to throw up my hands, because things don't work out the way I hoped they would," said O'Neal, a panel chairman. "But there are enough times where we do see good results."
During a review, the panel meets and speaks with a DFCS employee, the child and his or her parents and any other interested party. The volunteers typically prepare by looking through the child's file a week before the meeting, Stutts said.
The reviews last at least an hour, and the panel's recommendation is forwarded to Flanagan. He said he relies on the panel's advice.
"They come to court, too, and they testify," he said. "They tell me what the panel's results are and what they feel ought to be done in the case, because I want live input."
Representatives with the Child Advocacy Center also give input to the judge.
The luncheon is held annually, and Stutts said he believes panel members appreciate being recognized for their dedication.
"They will tell you it makes no difference, but it does," he said. "It makes a difference."
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