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 March 2012 archive sorted chronologically with the newest at the top.

Continuing Education Reminder for Volunteers

On Thursday, March 29, 2012, the Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program sent a letter to all volunteers and staff with a reminder of the upcoming deadline to report continuing education hours for the 2012–2013 fiscal year.

All volunteers are required to complete a total of twelve (12) hours in-service continuing education and sign the Guardian ad Litem Code of Conduct each fiscal year to maintain certification. This fiscal year's deadline is June 30, 2012.

We offer several ways for you to report your continuing education hours.

  • Online
    Submit your hours quickly and easily from our website.
     
  • Downloadable Form
    Complete, print and sign this form to send by mail, fax or email.

If you use the downloadable form to report your hours, send it to us in one of the following ways.

  • Mail to 1920 Thomasville Road, Suite 208, Tallahassee, Florida 32303-5217
  • Fax to (850) 606-1201
  • Scan and Email to christine.gornik@gal.fl.gov

There is no online version of the Code of Conduct. Download, print and sign the document and then send it to us by mail, fax or email as detailed above.

Remember, all hours and documentation must be submitted by June 30, 2012. Volunteers will then be mailed new certification cards with an expiration date of June 30, 2013.

Please contact us if you have any questions about this process. Thank you for your continued advocacy for our children!

New Event: FDLRS Educational Surrogate Training

We regularly host a variety of events to provide community outreach, raise awareness of our program, recruit new volunteers, fund raise and furnish training to our volunteer guardians ad litem. The following event has been recently added to our calendar.

FDLRS Educational Surrogate Training
Florida Diagnostic and Learning Resources System is holding an educational surrogate training session. Successful completion of the training and certification as an educational surrogate will qualify guardians ad litem to provide additional advocacy to children receiving exceptional student education (ESE) services and who have individualized education programs (IEP) at school. Participants will be awarded two (2) hours of in-service continuing education credit.

In Print: Our Volunteers in the News

Original Photo Credit: Dorothy Binger
Photo: Dorothy Binger

On Tuesday, March 27, 2012, the Tallahassee Democrat published a special article on Dorothy "Dot" Binger, longtime volunteer for the Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program as well as author of our Ask a Mentor periodical.

Binger has been honored as a 2012 Trailblazer by the Oasis Center for Women and Girls. Their annual recognition program celebrates "local women who have rewritten history by blazing trails." Binger will be celebrated along with other 2012 Trailblazers at the Women's History Month Community Luncheon on Thursday, March 29, 2012.

In addition to twenty-two years of volunteer service to our program and the children of our community, Binger has forty-five years of teaching experience, fought for salary equality at Pensacola Junior College in the 1950s, was the third employee hired at Tallahassee Community College and helped start Leon County's PACE Center for Girls.

The entire article is presented below in case you missed it. Congratulations to Dot and thank you for your years of dedicated service!

Dorothy Binger has knack for getting good things started
By Bethany L. Young

Tuesday, March 27, 2012
Tallahassee Democrat
News

As she speaks, Dorothy "Dot" Binger's voice embodies wisdom and a life that has been fully lived. It is a daunting task to choose where to begin when trying to characterize who she is and what she has accomplished.

Binger was there in 1994 at the inception of Leon County's PACE Center for Girls. At the time, there were only five PACE centers statewide; today there are 17.

Binger served on PACE's Board of Directors from the start, helped hire its first executive director and helped ascertain the building where Leon County's first PACE Center was housed. Binger also served on the PACE Center's State Board of Directors and said that she made certain that the changes she saw on a state level were reflected in Tallahassee.

Binger seems to have a knack for being places when things begin.

"I started at TCC (Tallahassee Community College) as their third employee, first business manager, and planned the business program," Binger said. "I taught accounting that first year."

Each year in March, The Oasis Center for Women and Girls recognizes local women who have rewritten history by blazing trails. Trailblazers are honored for the barriers they have crossed and glass ceilings they have shattered. Binger's dynamic accomplishments have made the road easier for other women to follow. She is a 2012 Trailblazer Honoree.

Along the years, Binger has taught at numerous educational institutions ranging from high schools, to universities, to community colleges. Binger has 45 years of teaching in her background.

Binger has a heart for volunteering and spent 40 years of her life volunteering for Envision Credit Union. Her volunteerism also includes 22 years of service to Guardian Ad Litem.

"I haven't done anything like start a big movement, but I've been involved in trying to make sure that women receive equal treatment," she said.

While employed at Pensacola Junior College in a time when women were mostly thought of as housewives, Binger served on a salaries committee, where the decision was made to base a person's salary on merit instead of gender, which was a great accomplishment in the mid-1950s.

Binger's leadership skills were nourished by supportive parents and a host of teachers that touched her life. Binger believes that raising a leader requires a critical combination of support from parents and educators.

In reference to the importance of Women's History Month and the purposeful, intentional recognition of women's achievements, "It probably will be a long time before we don't need to do this," Binger said. She continues, "We went through thousands of years where, in general, women were just not considered to have the abilities that men had to do the kinds of things that men did. The actual accomplishments of women for hundreds of years were not properly acknowledged and young women today, many of whom would take it for granted, are not properly appreciative of all the shoulders they stand on and what it took to get to this point."

Please join us in celebrating Dorothy "Dot" Binger and the other 2012 Trailblazers at the Women's History Month Community Luncheon on March 29 at 11:30 a.m. at the Lively Cafe at St. John's Church. You can register to attend online at www.theoasiscenter.net.

Binger leaves girls with these words: "Work hard to discover what your true nature is and what it is that you are good in and what it is that you are strong in. (Then) do it with honesty and integrity and the knowledge that you need to be serving others as well as yourself. You never know what small things you do that are totally significant for one other person..."

Written by Bethany L. Young for The Oasis Center for Women & Girls, a nonprofit that aims to "improve the lives of women and girls through celebration and support." Interview conducted by Sarah Sturges. www.theoasiscenter.net. You can contact Oasis through Haley Cutler, executive director, at 222-2747 or haley.oasis@comcast.net

Copyright © 2012, Tallahassee Democrat. All Rights Reserved.

In Print: The Florida Bar News

Logo --- The Florida Bar

The April 2012 edition of the Florida Bar News features three articles about the Florida Guardian ad Litem Program, our mission and the current statewide initiatives.

The first article, "A volunteer willing to say 'I am for the child'", introduces the program and reaches out to attorneys encouraging them to volunteer their time.

The second article, "A vehicle for better advocacy", discusses the passage of SB 1960, which permits guardian ad litem volunteers to transport children in the program.

The third article, "'A Voice Heard'", talks about the "A Voice Heard" 2012 Status Report and the valuable information and lessons it contains.

The articles are presented below in case you missed them. Thank you to the Florida Bar for featuring our program with their membership!

A volunteer willing to say 'I am for the child'
By The Florida Bar

Sunday, April 1, 2012
Florida Bar News

To join 8,000 volunteer guardians ad litem in Florida, you must be willing to open up your heart to abused and neglected children. You must agree that it's a human rights issue that that foster child's voice needs to be heard. After listening to that child, you must help the judge in dependency court understand what's in the child's best interest.

Even though it is statutorily mandated that every abused and neglected child have a guardian ad litem, the reality is that 10,000 out of more than 32,000 foster children still have no voice in Florida's courts.

"These children have lots of needs. The studies have shown you get better outcomes with children when you have an advocate," said Alan Abramowitz, executive director of the statewide GAL program.

"What we're seeing is a force out there throughout the state that's willing to step forward. We need to reach out to them. That's why the whole 'I Am for the Child' campaign is really there to allow people to do what in their heart they want to do, and that is to be there for a child who has no one."

Amy Goldin is one such GAL volunteer. She's a solo real estate law practitioner in Plantation and a mother of 17-year-old boy. She's also a guardian ad litem to a 17-year-old young woman with a 2-year-old child of her own. In her spare time, she is trying to raise money and recruit volunteers for the GAL program.

She views her mission as urgent.

"In Broward County alone, we have over 700 children who need a guardian ad litem," Goldin said. "It's very scary. We don't want to be one of those newspaper stories. I think it is a crisis."

Horrific stories of abused and neglected children, she said, "are down the street and in our neighborhoods."

When funding is tight for legal services, she said that's when the 501(c)(3)'s become even more important. She was in Tallahassee trying to raise $40,000 for one of 25 nonprofit charitable organizations where the money goes directly to the GAL program to help with training, volunteer recognition ceremonies, toys, summer camp fees, and anything else to help the children the GALs serve.

Besides searching for contributions of money, Goldin is looking for attorneys willing to volunteer as GALs.

"I worked at Carlton Fields in Tampa, so I know the pressure of hours," she said. "I go out and talk to attorneys in firms, and that's a big problem, the time constraint. Young people are eager to step in and help, but they feel the time pressure with billable hours. What I tell them is, 'Other than going to court—which is a time set—you can be very flexible with your time.'"

She visits her own GAL client after 5:30 on Fridays and on the weekends. Talking to her teachers, guidance counselors, and case workers is mostly done over the phone.

Goldin has found that judges try to be flexible.

"The judges always have listened to me and the program's advice. They want you to attend these hearings. If you say, 'I can't make it at 9 in the morning, because I have a conflict with another hearing,' they will try to work with you," Goldin said.

Employers do need to support the GAL leaving the office for those court hearings.

But, Goldin said: "I don't think people should be concerned this is going to be a second job, because it's not. And a lot of lawyers have specialty experience or backgrounds in immigration law or certain specific issues that we need help with. They may not want to be a GAL, but they are willing to help us out on specific cases. That's something we are interested in, as well."

"Everybody can do something, and there's something for everyone," Goldin said. "It's about the kids. It's about their human rights. They have a right to live. They have a right to prosper. They have a right to be hugged."

For more information, contact www.GuardianadLitem.org or call (866) 341-1425.

Copyright © 2012, The Florida Bar. All Rights Reserved.

A vehicle for better advocacy
By Jan Pudlow

Sunday, April 1, 2012
Florida Bar News

"My wife says she only learns what's going on with the kids when she's in the car. Otherwise they won't talk to her," Alan Abramowitz said with a laugh.

But as executive director of the Florida Guardian ad Litem Program, he considers allowing volunteers to transport kids in their cars a serious matter of safety for abused and neglected children.

Alan Abramowitz "A volunteer in California who works for us now said a child disclosed they were being raped in a foster home," Abramowitz said. "And she said, 'I never would have known that if I hadn't been alone with her in the car, and she trusted me.'

"My view is, safety is the primary reason. I think it protects kids. When they trust you, they will talk to you. And when they talk to you, they will disclose things. The second reason why is normalcy."

In a report dedicated to Sen. Nan Rich, D-Sunrise, one of the earliest supporters of the GAL program, Abramowitz said he agrees with recommendations to expand the Transportation Pilot Project of June 2011 to all circuits, because the pilot "has met the original goals intended of child safety, improved communications, a sense of normalcy, volunteer empowerment, and volunteer retention."

That follows the recommendations made by Jane Soltis, 2011 Child Advocate of the Year, who evaluated the pilot.

This year, legislation—SB 1960, in lines 268 to 272—recognizes the GAL Program's authority to transport children. However, no volunteer will ever be required or pressured to participate in transporting a child, and no judge can order it.

"I didn't want a situation where the volunteer didn't want to. They have to do it from their own hearts. You're not a lesser volunteer because you don't want to do it," Abramowitz said. "Is it in the best interest of the child? Yes."

He tells the story of a volunteer GAL in the Fifth Judicial Circuit who has an autistic child living in a group home who wasn't able to get out much.

"He's been taking the kid to a park a lot, four hours at a time. The kid is an older kid. His therapist says this kid is like a new kid," Abramowitz said.

"The volunteer sent me a video of the kid climbing a tree. It's very emotional to see what's happening out there, when these children have someone. And you need to transport them to be able to do these things."

Abramowitz is a GAL for a 17-year-old college student, who lives in a group home where the big entertainment offering is G-rated movies.

"I wanted him to be able to date. He's in a group home. It's a little difficult. That's all I thought about when I was 17," Abramowitz said.

The young man loves music, and hinted he would love to go to a concert.

Abramowitz brought that up at a staffing, and a 501(c)(3) paid for the tickets.

"If I'm a volunteer, I can go to them for help so the child can feel normal. Sometimes, it's a ticket to something; it could be a prom dress or membership in a club.

"We brought it up, and everyone was receptive to it. I think the advocacy for this child was getting everyone around the table and saying, 'Let's let him be a normal kid.' And everyone agreed."

So Abramowitz picked up his kid in his car, they grabbed lunch, and went to the concert at Tallahassee's civic center.

"He loved it," Abramowitz said. "I didn't understand one word during the concert because it was so loud, but I enjoyed watching him have his first concert experience. It really gave him a typical normal teenage experience that he will never forget."

Copyright © 2012, The Florida Bar. All Rights Reserved.

'A Voice Heard'
By Jan Pudlow

Sunday, April 1, 2012
Florida Bar News

Throwing a birthday party for a girl who's never had one before.

Cheering from the stands as a boy scores in a basketball game.

Laughing at a child's jokes.

Helping a teen get a driver's license.

Showing a kindergartner how to tie her shoelaces.

Taking a foster kid from a group home to a park, just to listen.

During his two decades of advocating for children, Alan Abramowitz, executive director of the Florida Guardian ad Litem Program, said he has learned that the most important skill in child advocacy is listening.

'I am for the child who is afraid to go home.' "The best person to fight for their child is the parent. Well, in these situations, there's no parent to do it. What makes a parent good? They care about the child. They do homework with the child. They help the child. They are role models for the child. And they listen to the child. We want guardians ad litem to do the same thing," Abramowitz said.

Clearly, the role of a guardian ad litem has expanded beyond the courtroom as an advocate for children in dependency court. As Abramowitz explained, in 1997, when the GAL program was under the court, the court took the position that GAL volunteers were prohibited from providing services and were focused on meeting the courts' needs.

"I'm interested in the child. And as we focus on the child, we'll become better advocates for the court," Abramowitz said. "I'm treating it not as a direct line to the court, but a better line to the child so we can do a better job."

As GAL volunteer Bonnie Marmor, who has a Ph.D. in strategic planning, writes in this year's status report: "The GAL volunteer often becomes a role model, a mentor, an educational surrogate, a friend, a confidant, and most important, a consistent caring person on whom the child(ren) can rely."

Marmor led a project in six circuits where GAL volunteers asked their clients—152 elementary, middle-school, high-school, and aged-out foster kids—questions about their GAL experiences, with the goals of helping volunteers gain a better understanding of the children they represent and allowing foster children to advise and guide the direction of the program.

"It makes me realize how important our corps of volunteers is. Although I may have my own cases, others have far more serious issues than I have," Marmor said. "There are volunteers who are so special, so dedicated, so committed to making sure that the right things are done for the right reason."

"A Voice Heard"—the simple, poignant title of the report—was supplied by former foster youth Brian Williams, recently accepted into the Fostering Achievement Fellowship Program at Tallahassee Community College.

Here's a sampling of those voices heard:

What is the most important thing I do to help you?

"You helped me…get new glasses when I couldn't see the board," answered one K-5 student.

"(You) help me understand and answer questions I have about why my dad and brother and mom are the way they are," answered a middle-school student.

"It's already been done…I am aging out with a life, a job, and a new family," answers a high-school student.

If there was one thing you could wish for today, what would it be?

"I already got my wish…to come home," an 11-year-old happily reported.

What other things would you like me to do for you?

"I want you to be able to see me forever, or at least until I get married," a 13-year-old told her GAL.

Why do you think I come to see you?

"To make sure I don't get hurt," a K-5 child told the GAL.

"Because you think I am a real neat kid—you tell me that a lot," another child said.

If you were a GAL, is there anything special you would do for the person you visit?

One 17-year-old said she'd "ensure that the kids got to keep their pets." When police first arrived at her home, her precious declawed Himalayan cat escaped through an open door and the girl was not allowed to look for the cat that she feared would not survive outside. After 10 months, the girl is still mourning the loss of her pet, said her GAL volunteer.

What would you have liked your GAL to do that he or she did not do?

"It would have been nice if my GAL could have transported me. If so, I wouldn't have missed my aunt's memorial service. I asked my GAL to take me that Sunday, but she said she would have liked to but she couldn't because she wasn't allowed to transport. It was the weekend and the group home ran on what they called a 'skeleton crew,' so I missed the memorial service. I just always knew that my GAL would have done things like that for me if she had been allowed to."

"Stay in my life instead of just disappearing," said a former foster youth, ages 18–23.

Copyright © 2012, The Florida Bar. All Rights Reserved.

In Print: Our Volunteers in the News

Logo --- TallyTIES

On Monday, March 26, 2012, the Tallahassee Democrat published an article about TallyTIES, the non-profit organization co-founded by volunteer guardian ad litem Matt Liebenhaut and current Child Advocates II, Inc. board president Brian Sealey.

Every year, TallyTIES adopts an organization and provides a uniquely customized approach to fundraising and volunteer recruitment. The Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program was proud to be the first organization TallyTIES adopted, as mentioned by Deborah Moore below.

The article is presented below in case you missed it. Congratulations to Brian and Matt on another great year of public service and support!

TallyTIES adopts one cause to help all year
By Sharon Kant-Rauch

Monday, March 26, 2012
Tallahassee Democrat
News

Writing a check feels ho-hum. And volunteering is hard to fit into a busy schedule.

But what if a whole group got together to pull its resources for one nonprofit a year?

That might make an impact.

That's the idea behind TallyTIES, a two-year organization that has adopted two agencies since it began. Last year members helped recruit new volunteers to the Guardian ad Litem program through six social mixers and raised more than $10,000 for the organization during a gala.

This year TallyTIES, which now has more than 100 members, adopted America's Second Harvest of the Big Bend and hopes to top last year's fundrasing efforts on Thursday during the Second Annual Celebrity Ties Auction & Gala at the Tallahassee Woman's Club.

The evening will include music, celebrity guest appearances, complimentary drinks and heavy hors d'oeuvres. Auction items will include ties signed by John Travolta and Robert DeNiro, a jersey signed by Michael Jordan and a guitar signed by Justin Bieber.

But more than the money raised at the gala, TallyTIES members have gotten to know the staff, board members and some of the clients of both nonprofits, causing a real "tie" to form between people on all sides.

"Sometimes things get so superficial handing out checks," said Brian Sealey, 29, a real estate agent who founded the organization with his old FSU roommate Matt Liebenhaut. "We're not touching anybody. I live and work in Tallahassee and I want to get to know Tallahassee better. We can go out there and look people in the eye and say, 'I care about you and want to make your life better.'"

Liebenhaut, 32, who started a new law firm about seven months ago, said the kind of human contact that takes place over an entire year forms a deep bond.

"I can now tell you all about Guardian ad Litem and Second Harvest from the inside out," he said. "We know the good they're trying to do and even two or three years down the road when we're not formally connected to them, we can be ambassadors for them because we know what they're all about."

Local artist Roberto Valdes contributed his share by donating a painting he made in honor of the Celebrity Ties auction.

The painting is covered with ties, with ones at the bottom more dense and painted in earth tone colors. But the ties become brighter near the middle and then whip off into the air at the top, representing what can happen if the community provides support to people in need.

To build excitement about the gala, the painting is being displayed all over town, starting at the Florida Commerce Credit Union on Tuesday and then moving to such places as The Aloft Hotel, Mockingbird Cafe, 1020 Art Gallery and Anthony's Grill.

"Instead of art being supported by the community, the community is being supported by art," Valdes said.

He said he loved the idea of TallyTIES which allowed "normal people to come together to do something individuals can't do by themselves in a substantial way."

Paul Clements, the development director at Second Harvest, said he's thrilled that TallyTIES has taken on the organization of the gala.

"We only have a staff of 18, which distributes 5.5 million tons of food a year, and they don't have time to put on an event of this scale," Clements said.

And if $10,000 is raised at this gala, that will represent 40,000 meals, Clements said.

This time of year - after the boon of the holidays - the shelves are often bare.

In the past two years, the food Second Harvest has gotten from the United States Department of Agriculture has also dropped by 30 percent. So money from the gala would allow them to buy food to replenish the shelves.

Deborah Moore, the director of the Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem program, also was delighted when Sealey and Leibenhaut decided her organization would be the first agency TallyTIES adopted. One of her biggest needs was more volunteers, who become advocates for abused and neglected children.

TallyTIES agreed to hold a social mixer every two months and invited everyone they knew to come. Moore could do the same.

At the mixer, Moore had a chance to explain the program and even had applications on hand. Some of the TallyTIES members also became guardian ad litem volunteers, including Sealey, who is now on the board.

Moore estimates recruitment went up about 25 percent as a result of the TallyTIES efforts.

"I don't know of another organization that takes on one program and wraps their arms around them for an entire year," she said. "That is something unique."

TallyTIES are now taking applications for their next nonprofit partner. To find out more, visit www.tallyties.org.

If you go:
What: 2012 Celebrity Ties Auction and Gala.
Where: The Woman's Club of Tallahassee, 1513 Cristobal Drive Los Robles.
When: 6 p.m. on Thursday.
Cost: $40; tickets available at www.tallyties.org.

To view a video of Brian Sealey and Roberto Valdes discussing Valdes' painting, visit www.tallahassee.com.

Copyright © 2012, Tallahassee Democrat. All Rights Reserved.

New Event: Training Refresher Course 2

We regularly host a variety of events to provide community outreach, raise awareness of our program, recruit new volunteers, fund raise and furnish training to our volunteer guardians ad litem. The following event has been recently added to our calendar.

Training Refresher Course 2
The Training Refresher Course continuing education series, sponsored by the Volunteer Advisory Committee, provides an opportunity for current volunteer guardians ad litem to review and refresh their knowledge and skills. Participants will be awarded two and a half (2.5) hours of in-service continuing education credit.

New Event: Volunteer Recruitment Coffee

We regularly host a variety of events to provide community outreach, raise awareness of our program, recruit new volunteers, fund raise and furnish training to our volunteer guardians ad litem. The following event has been recently added to our calendar.

Volunteer Recruitment Coffee
Have your questions answered, talk to current volunteers and learn about our program at our monthly Volunteer Recruitment Coffee. Members of our Volunteer Recruitment Committee will be on hand to discuss the rewards of becoming a guardian ad litem and guide you through the application process.

CORRECTION 2012-03-20: the Volunteer Recruitment Coffee on April 7 will be from 9 to 11 AM, not until noon as previously stated.

Updated Event: Volunteer Training F

We regularly host a variety of events to provide community outreach, raise awareness of our program, recruit new volunteers, fund raise and furnish training to our volunteer guardians ad litem. The following events have been recently added to our calendar.

We had previously announced that Volunteer Training F was canceled and would not be rescheduled. It will now take place as a three-day session including one Saturday.

Volunteer guardians ad litem are required to complete thirty hours of pre-service training in order to become certified and undergo regular recertification. The training curriculum includes classroom learning, reading, court observation and practice activities.

Check out the event flyer and download a printable flyer for more information.

GAL Program Receives Davis Productivity Eagle Award

Logo --- Davis Productivity Awards

The Florida Guardian ad Litem Program, its staff, local circuits and not-for-profits, community supporters and, of course, the over 8,000 guardian ad litem volunteers statewide have won a most prestigious award.

Presented annually since 1989, the Davis Productivity Awards program acknowledges and rewards state employees and work units "whose work significantly and measurably increases productivity and promotes innovation to improve the delivery of state services and save money for Florida taxpayers and businesses."

The program was nominated for "Streamlining Efficiencies to Focus on Commitment to Children" in the "Exemplary State" type classification and received one of only sixteen "Eagle" category awards this year. A total of 498 individuals representing the program were nominated, 202 more than the next largest nominee group. The nominations and subsequent award were based on the fact that in state government, the Florida Guardian ad Litem Program costs the least and benefits the most.

"Thank you to our staff and volunteers of this great program," says Executive Director Alan Abramowitz. "Without you, this would not be possible!"

Millions of dollars have been saved since the inception of the program in 1980. By utilizing over 16,000 volunteers in the past five years alone, hiring a committed staff of child advocates, engaging the non-profits supporting their local circuit's program, reaching out to businesses in the community, and using pro bono attorneys across the state—and in particular through the Legal Aid Society of the Orange County Bar Association—the program has saved taxpayers' dollars while working to accomplish a great need.

Additional efforts which have resulted in significant savings to the state include the establishment of a private/public partnership securing money with the local not-for-profits, the development of an online portal for volunteers, and the creation of an online pro bono attorney training program for which attorneys qualify for continuing legal education (CLE) credit hours.

The 2012 Prudential – Davis Productivity Awards received 533 nominations in five categories for "innovations and productivity improvements worth $509 million in cost savings, cost avoidances and increased revenue for state government." Within those nominations, a total of 4,163 individuals were recognized for their contributions.

The Davis Productivity Awards program is a public-private initiative chaired by the Lieutenant Governor, currently Jennifer Carroll, and sponsored by Prudential Financial, Inc., Florida TaxWatch, the Florida Council of 100 and the State of Florida. The awards were originated by J.E. Davis and A.D. Davis, the late co-founders of Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc., and Florida TaxWatch.

Award presentations will take place statewide in June 2012. The Florida Guardian ad Litem Program will be recognized and receive this incredible award at a ceremony scheduled on Friday, June 1, 2012 in Tallahassee, Florida.

Congratulations to everyone involved with the program and thank you to everyone who made this honor possible!

Abramowitz: 2012 Legislative Update

On Friday, March 16, 2012, Alan Abramowitz, executive director of the Statewide Guardian ad Litem Office provided a legislative update to guardian ad litem staff, volunteers and supporters.

In addition to discussing the impact to the program's budget, Abramowitz also reports that SB 1960—which permits, among other things, guardian ad litem volunteers to transport children in the program—received bipartisan and unanimous support in the House and Senate.

You can read the text of his update below and download the Florida Guardian ad Litem 2012 Transportation Pilot Project Review.

 

STATEWIDE GUARDIAN AD LITEM PROGRAM ANNOUNCES OVERVIEW OF
2012 LEGISLATIVE RESULTS

Thanks so much to all the GAL volunteers who support the Guardian ad Litem Program. You have created a situation which makes our legislative session so much more successful and meaningful. I have been meeting with the governor's staff, legislative staff, and legislators; the work has already been done by all of you showing the importance of the GAL Program to children through word of mouth in the community about how you have made a difference in the lives of children.

The legislative session comes to a close with many cuts taken in education, healthcare, and civil and criminal justice. The criminal justice portion of our budget has been especially hard hit, with the Florida Legislature being forced to weigh which prisons to keep open and what prevention programs could be funded. Despite these monumental challenges, the GAL Program has received a substantial increase and has not been cut for several sessions. This is remarkable considering the economic downturn the state has been facing.

Our program is really appreciative of Governor Scott, First Lady Ann Scott and the governor's staff. They have kept me up to date on issues impacting guardians ad litem and child welfare. As I have stated often, we have a friend in the governor's office when it comes to supporting the GAL Program, including the governor setting up a televised swearing in of our GAL volunteers during the legislative session and offering technical assistance from his staff, including the Office of Policy and Budget.

The House and Senate have also been very supportive across the board. The GAL Program was brought up in legislative budget meetings throughout session trying to come up with more dollars so children can have a voice and have a better outcome by having a volunteer child advocate. Throughout session, legislators would encourage me, our program and our volunteers to keep advocating for children. A special thanks goes out to Speaker Dean Cannon, Speaker Designee Will Weatherford, Representative Dennis Baxley, Representative Denise Grimsley, Senate President Mike Haridopolos, Senator J.D. Alexander, Senator Ronda Storms, Senator Nan Rich, and Senator Joe Negron to name a few.

The program was not targeted for cuts during the budget process and at the end of the process; the GAL Program received an extra $1.5 million. The state has only awarded extra funds to programs with extraordinary records of success and this is a testament to what the Guardian ad Litem Program has done for Florida's children year after year.

The Orange County Bar Association also received a $300,000 nonrecurring allocation to expand child representation in that area. In total, we received an increase of $1.8 million dollars.

The program also achieved a key victory with the passage of SB 1960. SB 1960 was passed 115-0 by the House and 40-0 by the Senate, one of the few substantive bills to receive bipartisan and unanimous support in both chambers. Among other provisions of this bill, it changes Florida law to permit guardian ad litem volunteers to transport children served by the program. The bill prohibits judges from court ordering volunteers to transport; this ensures the decision is exclusively the volunteers' with approval from the program.

Allowing volunteers to transport youth will enhance the bonding relationship between the two and will encourage improved communication. Also, allowing volunteers to transport youth to everyday events, such as a school dance, will promote a sense of normalcy for the youth.

Further, the bill creates a structure in which individual counties can fund positions for Guardian ad Litem. This will allow more children to be served and counties to participate in aiding their residents in a new manner.

While most institutions in Florida were fortunate to break even in 2012, Guardian ad Litem was of the very few to come out ahead, both fiscally and legislatively. This year was a landmark year for GAL as it continues to serve more of Florida's vulnerable children.

General Revenue Fund    $31,656,928
Trust Fund $320,249
Positions 539
Total Funding $31,977,177

I want to recognize the Florida Guardian ad Litem Foundation's lobbyist, Monica Rodriguez. She was instrumental in achieving a successful legislative session and preparing the above report. Most importantly, I thank each of you for your dedication to children and inspiration you give to all our staff at the Guardian ad Litem Program.

Alan F. Abramowitz
Executive Director
Statewide Guardian ad Litem Office
1-850-241-3232