The hub of information for the Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program, our blog contains posts with announcements, news and events, articles, periodicals and additions or updates to our website.

This page contains published posts from the November 2011 archive sorted chronologically with the newest at the top.

In Print: Tallahassee Democrat Editorial

On November 27, 2011, the Tallahassee Democrat published an editorial piece in support of the Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program.

In addition to describing our important mission, the article encourages people to help us meet our current volunteer recruitment goals and/or provide assistance to Child Advocates II, Inc., our non-profit support organization.

The editorial is presented below in case you missed it. Thank you to the Tallahassee Democrat!

Our Opinion: Worthwhile commitment

Sunday, November 27, 2011
Tallahassee Democrat
Opinion/Editorials


Sometimes reports about the plight of children in our communities are so overwhelming that we get lost searching for answers, leading to ineffectiveness. Those who take the extra step by getting involved truly deserve a salute from the rest of us.

For instance, 10 children now have families to call their own following an adoption ceremony last week at the Leon County Courthouse in honor of National Adoption Month. It was hosted by the Florida Department of Children and Families and the Children's Home Society. Similar programs are being held throughout the state this month, when a couple hundred children will celebrate going home with families of their own.

But according to DCF, 19,957 children are in foster care living with families or group homes. That indicates the number of children in need in our state.

Closer to home, there is an important opportunity for volunteers to represent children who need an advocate in their corner through the Second Judicial Circuit's Guardian ad Litem program. The agency is looking for at least 31 volunteers to step up to assist children living in Leon and five other surrounding counties.

In communities throughout Florida, volunteers with Guardian ad Litem work tirelessly behind the scenes to represent youth without voices. They bond with the child to whom they're assigned, visit the child's home, establish a relationship with teachers and help steer the child to community services that are available to meet that child's needs.

It's been said that a child working with a program volunteer is not likely to languish in the foster-care system, is more likely to find a safe home and is less likely to have to return to the child welfare system.

Because of its name, many may have the misconception that one must be an attorney or well-versed in family law to serve as a guardian ad litem. That is not the case. What the department needs are compassionate adults who are willing to commit a year to being the voice and advocate for a child in our community whose circumstances have come to the attention of the courts.

A critical need is to add more men to the ranks of volunteers, especially black and Hispanic men.

"Most of our guardians are not attorneys," said Deborah Moore, director of the program in this judicial district. "They come to this because they love children. We are happy to have that (legal) expertise, but a concern and passion for children is what we look for."

The 31 additional volunteers would go a long way toward helping address the needs of the 508 children in the system locally. Child Advocates II, a nonprofit organization, also is associated with the program. It is primarily charged with raising money that goes toward meeting the needs of the children represented, from clothing to money for school trips. It also is in need of volunteers.

In this season of giving, there are few gifts that match the gift of stepping up to represent the needs of a child.

YOU CAN HELP

For more information on how to become a Guardian ad Litem volunteer, go to www.gal2.org.

Copyright © 2011, Tallahassee Democrat. All Rights Reserved.

Event Update: GAL Day 2012

Our event flyer for the 2012 Guardian ad Litem Day at the Capitol has been updated to include a detailed but tentative two-day schedule.

Sponsored by the Florida Guardian ad Litem Foundation, Guardian ad Litem Day is a fun and unique event that brings volunteers, members of the community and legislators together to discuss and expand awareness of the needs of Florida's dependent children as well as honor the achievements of the program.

Checkout the lineup, mark your calendars and RSVP today!

Ann Scott: Letter of Appreciation

Last week, First Lady Ann Scott wrote a letter of appreciation to all of Florida's volunteer guardians ad litem.

You can download the original letter or read the text below.

 

November 23, 2011

Dear Guardian ad Litem Volunteer,

Thank you for your courage and commitment to abused and neglected children in Florida. As a mother, grandmother, and First Lady of Florida, I appreciate your hard work and applaud your volunteerism on behalf of our youngest and most vulnerable. I am personally committed to helping all children in Florida have a safe and permanent home. Thank you for sharing this goal.

The advocacy you provide as a guardian ad litem volunteer is vital to every child in the child welfare system. Children with a guardian ad litem volunteer are much more likely to find a safe and permanent home and less likely to languish in foster care.

Your independent advocacy extends well beyond the courtroom. Your advocacy prevents homelessness and reduces the chances a child will bounce from home to home or school to school. Your advocacy is a reminder that children are astonishing little humans and not statistics, numbers, or case files. You provide hope, unconditional support, and normalcy in an ever-changing and unpredictable world.

Our community benefits as a whole from your good work. Together, we will make Florida a place where all of our children are safe, healthy, ready to learn, and prepared to achieve their full potential.

Thank you for your service to the children of Florida this holiday season and throughout the New Year.

Sincerely,

 
Ann Scott
First Lady of Florida


Special thanks to Alan Abramowitz for sharing this letter.

In Print: Our Program Transforms Lives

The Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program is featured on the front page of today's Tallahassee Democrat.

The column by staff writer Sharon Kant-Rauch features volunteer guardian ad litem Karima Anderson, Dewayne Knight—a recipient of Anderson's public service and advocacy—and Circuit Director Deborah Moore.

Purchase a copy of the Tallahassee Democrat today at your local retailer to read the article and see the photographs, as well as support the newspaper.

Guardian ad Litem Program transforms lives
By Sharon Kant-Rauch

Monday, November 21, 2011
Tallahassee Democrat
News/Local/Community Hands


More volunteers are being sought

When Dewayne Knight was 15, he was angry. He had been in foster care for six years and had watched numerous case workers come and go. His grades were failing. He skipped school all the time. If someone said the wrong thing, he'd explode.

So when he found out the court had appointed him a guardian ad litem — an advocate who would look out for his interests — he was hostile. He said he didn't want one.

But Karima Anderson was undeterred. She had wanted to be a guardian since she was 17. Now at 21 — the legal age to become a volunteer advocate — she was ready for her first case.

It didn't matter that Dewayne towered over her by a foot and hardly said a word when they first met. What she saw was a teddy bear, albeit a big one.

Fast forward three years.

Knight is 18 and talks up a storm. He's about to complete his GED and has plans to go to Tallahassee Community College. He just heard that he's been hired at a fast-food restaurant, a job he has pursued for months.

Sitting next to Anderson at the Guardian ad Litem office on Thomasville Road, Knight credits Anderson with sticking with him over the years.

"We have a good bond," he said, glancing over at her and breaking into an infectious grin. "I could always talk to her about what was going on. I know she'll never give up on me."

Anderson blushes and beams. She feels like a proud mama.

Time well spent

Deborah Moore, director of the Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program, hopes more people in the Big Bend will become a guardian.

Currently about 280 volunteers are part of the program, which includes Leon and five surrounding counties. But to serve the 508 children in the system, she needs at least 31 more volunteers.

Trainings will be held in December and January.

"At any given time, about 50 children do not have an advocate," Moore said. "Having 311 volunteers would put me in a better position to serve them all."

Most of the children in the program have been removed from their home because of abuse, neglect or abandonment. They can range in age from newborns to 19, but the average age is between 7 and 9, Moore said.

Guardians initially meet with the child and parents to gather information about the case. Guardians continue to meet with the child every month until the case is resolved. Most cases last about a year.

Guardians attend court hearings and, along with an attorney and volunteer supervisor, make recommendations to the judge that are in the best interests of the child. Issues might include increased visitation by the parents or determining if the child is ready to go home.

Guardians also act as liaisons with the schools, helping children to get tutoring or counseling. The child is free to call the guardian when needed. Moore said most guardians spend between four and six hours a month on a case.

Research has shown that this time is well spent.

According to the National CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate Association), children who have a guardian are half as likely to go into foster care as those who do not have an advocate. If they do go into foster care, they get out eight months earlier than those without a guardian.

Children with a guardian also are more likely to do better in school, and are less likely to be expelled or to have poor conduct.

Volunteer guardians appear to be the best people to be child advocates.

CASA reports show volunteers "spend significantly more time with the child than a paid guardian ad litem."

To become a guardian, a volunteer must fill out an application and then have an interview with Moore. If Moore feels the person is a good match for the program, the volunteer goes through a 30-hour training process.

Moore said when she pre-screens potential volunteers "98.9 percent" of them say they're interested in becoming a volunteer because they love children.

"That," Moore said, "is a wonderful foundation to build on."

Building a relationship

As Knight and Anderson sat in the Guardian ad Litem office, they reminisced about the past three years.

"Remember the first time I got you tutoring help?" Anderson asked.

Knight's hands immediately flew to cover his face as he shook his head from side to side.

"Oh my God," he said, laughing. "The first time she asked me, 'Do you want a tutor?' I said 'No!' "

What did he need a tutor for? He was skipping school more than he was attending.

Anderson persisted. She talked with the principal and assistant principal. One day after school, they insisted he stay on campus.

What was wrong? Was he in trouble?

That wasn't the case, both principals said. They just wanted him to hang around.

Then the tutor showed up.

Knight doesn't remember much about the first visit. But when the tutor came again, he avoided her. Finally on the third visit, he settled down.

Knight laughs about it now because just recently he asked for a tutor. He's been working on his GED at Lively Technical Center on Appleyard Drive and missed passing the math portion by a few points.

Next time around, he wants to pass it.

"I was shocked when he asked," Anderson said. "But I was also really proud."

Moore said guardians are often the most consistent adult in a child's life. Knight agrees. He said he always knew he could reach Anderson and that she'd call him back by the next day. A case worker might take days to return a call.

"When I call Miss Karima, I know she'll get on it," he said.

Anderson signed him up for anger-management classes and visited him regularly at the group home where he was living. Sometimes she'd help with something as little as making sure he got special soap because he has sensitive skin.

Last Christmas, through the Guardian ad Litem program, she gave him a book called "The Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story," a biography of a famous surgeon best known for separating a pair of Siamese twins in 1987.

"I do not read," Knight said. "But one night I started the first page and I decided, 'I'm going to read the entire book.'"

And he did.

Part of the reason was that Carson's background was similar to his. Carson's mother dropped out of school and got married when she was a teenager. Carson didn't do well in school and had a violent temper.

But eventually, with the help of his mother, his grades improved dramatically and he eventually got accepted to Yale University.

"He had the same lifestyle that I had," Knight said. "We were in the same category."

He said one day he hopes to become a counselor or an actor. Anderson tells him he can do it.

Ever since Anderson became Knight's guardian, she also has made a ritual of taking him out to dinner on his birthday. Recently, when he turned 18, she took him to the Red Lobster.

"That was the first time I had ever been there," he said.

He told her at dinner he wanted to help other kids in foster care.

"That floored me," she said. "But it was the greatest thing to hear. So rewarding."

Anderson admits she's a busy person. She's working on a master's degree in social work at Florida State University. She works full time at an Early Head Start program and does some promotional marketing on the side. But she finds the time to be an advocate.

"I feel this population of children is so important that I've never been able to back out," she said.

Today, even though Knight is an adult living with his sister, Anderson still keeps in touch.

They do this thing together, he said. He'll be talking about something and she'll break into a grin. That will make him smile. Then she smiles some more.

Their joy flip-flops back and forth.

How to Volunteer

To learn more about becoming a guardian ad litem, visit www.guardianadlitem2.org or call 606-1216. Applications are available online.

DECEMBER TRAINING

When: 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Dec. 3; 5:30-9 p.m. Dec. 5 and 7.

JANUARY TRAINING

When: 5:30-9 p.m. Jan. 18, 19, 23, 25, 26 and 30.

All guardians must be 21 years old, pass a criminal background check and complete the 30-hour training.

Community Hands is a Tallahassee Democrat initiative to help link needs in the community with the people who can provide resources and hands-on work. Projects must overseen by a nonprofit agency. To be considered, email Sharon Kant-Rauch at srauch@tallahassee.com or call her at 671-6539.

Copyright © 2011, Tallahassee Democrat. All Rights Reserved.

I Am for the Child Campaign

I am for the child

The Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program is proud to support the "I Am for the Child" public awareness campaign recently launched by the National CASA Association.

The purpose of the campaign is to create a national movement behind the goal of every child receiving a court appointed volunteer guardian ad litem to represent their best interests.

Watch the videos, listen to the PSAs and learn more about court appointed special advocates, the "I Am for the Child" campaign and our mutual goals. You can also download a flyer featuring supporter Representative Alan Williams that is suitable for printing and sharing.

If you are ready to make a difference in the life of a child, visit Prospective Volunteers to get answers to your questions and apply to volunteer today.

Video Public Service Announcements
Audio Public Service Announcements
A Message from Deborah Moore, Circuit Director

I am for the child. Will you be for the child, too?

The child I am for is special. She is the little girl who has already suffered in an abusive home, enters the foster care system and is placed in three or four different homes and schools within just a few months. He is the little boy who witnessed a terrible assault on one of his parents. They are the brother and sister whose mother has just been sentenced to prison and who have been split up and reside in different counties.

Thankfully, most people do not know these children. I do. As I write this, there are hundreds of them in Leon and the adjacent counties. I know them all.

These children are served by the Guardian ad Litem Program, which trains and supports volunteers to speak for and advocate for abused and neglected children. These volunteers are people like you and me who look out for the best interests of the child.

The foster care and child welfare system is full of compassionate lawyers, judges, social workers and foster families, but the intense need can strain the system, making it difficult to protect the rights of each child. What are these rights? To be safe. To be treated with dignity. To be loved. To have friends and live in a home with a real family so the child can thrive. Every child deserves a chance to flourish. A child cannot defend his or her rights, but a Guardian ad Litem volunteer can.

With the help of a Guardian ad Litem volunteer, children have better outcomes. Based on national studies, a child with a volunteer is half as likely to languish in the foster care system, and much more likely to find a safe and permanent home. A child with a volunteer is less likely to return to the child welfare system after going home. Protected and nourished while coming through a period of vulnerability and fear, the child can better achieve his or her potential. These former foster kids may become our future doctors, teachers and leaders.

Every day I see first-hand the transformative impact a Guardian ad Litem volunteer can have on a child. Just the other day, while at the grocery store, I ran into Dot Binger, a Guardian ad Litem volunteer for more than 20 years. With the enthusiasm of a new volunteer assigned to her first case, Dot shared an update about her Guardian ad Litem 17-year-old. After providing two years of advocacy, she saw him recently adopted by a wonderful couple. One person can effect change and make a life-long difference for a child, and Dot has done so. Dot is for a child. She is one of our everyday heroes.

Our goal is that every child in the foster care and child welfare system has a qualified Guardian ad Litem volunteer looking out for his or her best interests.

Currently, with the support of about 310 volunteers, we are serving about 530 children in Franklin, Gadsden, Jefferson, Leon, Liberty and Wakulla counties. To serve 100 percent of the children in our area, we need more volunteers. This is our challenge. It is achievable, but only if you or someone you know agrees to join our ranks and to stand up for the rights of a child.

We know what needs to be done. Doing it is the hard part.

Please browse the rest of our website and learn how you can help. Then call me and say, "I am for the child."

Additional Resources

New Column: Ask a Mentor

We have added a new regular feature to our blog of particular interest to current volunteers. The Ask a Mentor column by Dot Binger—previously appearing in The Guardian newsletter—provides a mentor's answer to a specific question asked by a volunteer.

We hope that by providing this resource on our website, volunteers and interested parties can get answers to their questions more quickly and easily. You can subscribe to our RSS feed and follow us on Twitter to get the latest updates.

Read the first two Ask a Mentor columns published—here and here—and submit your questions (use the subject "Ask a Mentor").

Ask a Mentor: Dealing with a Difficult Case

Volunteer Question

I'm reluctant to talk about this, but it is bothering me a great deal. I'm having real trouble learning to like the child in my case, "Mark," an 11-year-old boy. There are several children in the home, and he manipulates all of them. He tries it with me too. He has several other traits which really concern me. The caregivers don't seem to let these traits bother them and say they just deal with any misbehavior when it occurs.

When I talked with the therapist he said that he had only seen Mark twice. I am aware that Mark has a very troubled history, and I know that liking the child is not my focus. But I'm concerned whether I am being sufficiently objective in determining what is in his best interest. I have really started dreading my visits, and I feel so guilty about my feelings.

Mentor Answer

This is something that can happen. Don't punish yourself about it. Talk with your volunteer supervisor and together decide whether it would be better for you to take another case and let this one be assigned to someone else. With the information you provide, the volunteer supervisor may be able to involve a guardian ad litem who is uniquely suited to this situation. We want the child to have the best possible representation and for you to have a satisfying experience so that you don't become discouraged.

If you do give up the case, be sure to have your file updated so that the new guardian can get a better start. Check to see that you have included case notes that document everything you have done, copies of emails and copies of all your child visit reports. If you are not in the habit of printing the documents scanned to you from the guardian ad litem office, the volunteer supervisor can supply those. I hope that you and your volunteer supervisor can resolve this—both to your satisfaction and to the benefit of the child.

Ask a Mentor: Visit Length

Volunteer Question

I'm concerned that all my recent visits to my child have been for only about fifteen minutes. I arrange to visit in advance and go with the intent of staying longer. I'll just get started playing a computer game which "Jesse" likes and the caregiver will say, "Oh, Jesse needs to change to his Cub Scout uniform as we need to leave in a few minutes." The next time it will be something else which cuts short the visit. Sometimes she apologizes, but basically she seems to think this is okay.

Mentor Answer

Yes, I would be concerned too if I could see my child for only fifteen minutes a month! It also raises a question of whether the caregiver is manipulating circumstances to make the visits short. At any rate, the next time you call to arrange your visit stress to her that you want to set a time when there will be no problem for you to stay an hour—at least 45 minutes.

You may need to remind her that you are required to make these visits and that they need to be more than token contacts with Jesse. In fifteen minutes, you barely have time to learn that he appears okay. You can't observe much about how he is relating to other children in the home or how he is relating to the caregiver. He isn't warmed up enough to talk about school, other activities or anything that might be troubling him.

If a guardian ad litem happens to be working on a case where visitation is needed several times a month, then shorter visits part of the time may be adequate. Remind the caregiver that occasionally you will visit Jesse at school or daycare if a younger child. Likewise, if the caregiver is not a parent then some of your visits can be to observe his visitation with the parent. When your monthly visit is at the caregiver's then do stay about an hour most of the time.

Help Wanted: New Volunteers

We need new volunteers to help us meet our goal of ensuring every child in need has a guardian ad litem. To help train new volunteers as quickly as possible, an additional pre-service training program has been scheduled for December 2011.

This training will take place over three days instead of the typical six. Apply to volunteer now and register for the training.

  • Volunteer Training: December 2011
  • Saturday, December 3, 2011, 9:00 AM–4:30 PM Icon: Event iCalendar Download
  • Monday, December 5, 2011, 5:30–9:00 PM Icon: Event iCalendar Download
  • Wednesday, December 7, 2011, 5:30–9:00 PM Icon: Event iCalendar Download

On average, guardians ad litem devote approximately six hours per month and while doing so create relationships that can make a huge impact on children's lives.

To become a guardian ad litem, you must be at least twenty-one years old, pass a criminal background check and complete the thirty-hour pre-service training program to become certified.