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

Great Budget News from Alan Abramowitz

On Tuesday, April 17, 2012, Alan Abramowitz sent an exciting legislative update announcing the news that the entire Statewide Guardian ad Litem Program budget request will be approved.

The contents of his letter are presented below.

Statewide Guardian ad Litem Program Announces Great Budget News

I received a phone call earlier today from the Governor's Office letting me know that our entire budget including the additional $1.8 million nonrecurring contract dollars will be signed into law.

The Governor has been very supportive through this Legislative Session and continues to support our Program. His office wanted me to let you know he supports the great work you do for children every day.

I also want to thank each and every one of you for your commitment to give every child a voice!

Alan F. Abramowitz
Executive Director

Ask a Mentor: More on Continuing Relationships

Volunteer Question

In your last column you talked about continuing a relationship with the children after the case is closed, and in the discussion you mentioned the goodbye visit. I'm also about to end my first case and have been thinking about what to say in my last official visit. Would you mind talking further about that?

Mentor Answer

So much depends upon the age of the child/children. Much also depends on how long I have had the case and the strength of the relationship I have built with the children. When I arrange the visit time with the caregiver I usually mention that this will be the last visit and that I will talk with the children about it. Most likely the caregiver will say something to the children. If it is a very sensitive situation in which I think the children might be upset, I request the caregiver not to mention anything in advance—or I just don't tell the caregiver this will be my last visit.

Sometimes I take to the children an appropriate card, celebrating the fact that their lives have "settled down" and they are living in a safe, stable home. Depending upon their ages, I remind them of why the judge appointed me to be their special friend. Now that "things" seem to be okay for them the judge needs me to work with some other children who are still having problems. I stress, however, that even though I won't be making regular visits I will always be their friend and they can call me. Should they forget my phone number they can call the Guardian ad Litem office and someone will get in touch with me. I try to end on an upbeat tone such as asking, "what are you looking forward to next week?"

On the way home I find myself reflecting on these children, trying to pinpoint how I made a difference. I ask myself if there were times I would have done something differently. Did I get all of the information I needed and make all of the contacts that were important? And I definitely ask myself what I learned during this case that will help me to improve my advocacy for the children in my next case.

Register for Volunteer Training

Register today to take advantage of our upcoming volunteer training events.

Whether you are a current volunteer who needs to recertify or an individual wanting to become a volunteer guardian ad litem, our thirty-hour volunteer training program is for you.

The training curriculum typically includes classroom learning, reading, court observation and practice activities.

Volunteer Training F
We are looking for additional participants for Volunteer Training F, scheduled to begin in a little over a week.

This session will take place over three days: on Wednesday, April 25 from 5:30 to 9:00 PM; on Saturday, April 28 from 9:00 AM to 1:00 PM; and on Wednesday, May 2 from 5:30 to 9:00 PM.

Please register by Monday, April 23, 2012 to take part in this training.

You can register for Volunteer Training F by emailing christine.gornik@gal.fl.gov or calling (850) 606-1218.

New volunteers need to complete an application before attending the training course, so register at the same time you submit your application.

Volunteer Training G
If the above dates are unsuitable for you, we have another training course scheduled for June 2012.

Volunteer Training G will occur over six days from 5:30 to 9:00 PM on Monday, June 4; Wednesday, June 6; Thursday, June 7; Monday, June 11; Wednesday, June 13; and Thursday, June 14.

You can register for Volunteer Training G by emailing christine.gornik@gal.fl.gov or calling (850) 606-1218.

Stay Informed
Our training page lists all of our upcoming training sessions as they are scheduled.

Subscribe to our blog RSS feed and follow us on Twitter to get the latest news and updates on our training program and other events.

If you have questions about guardian ad litem training or anything else, please contact us!

Thank you and we hope to see you at a training session.

Event Update: GAL Appreciation Day 2012

Guardian ad Litem Appreciation Day 2012 has been rescheduled. This annual event provides an opportunity for the local guardian ad litem community to get together, socialize, have fun and recognize the great work of our volunteers, community supporters and staff.

Check out the event flyer for additional information and a tentative schedule of events. You can also download a Save the Date card.

Abramowitz on the Davis Productivity Eagle Award

Logo --- Davis Productivity Awards

As we reported last month, the Florida Guardian ad Litem Program was nominated for and awarded a 2012 Davis Productivity Eagle Award.

Executive Director Alan Abramowitz shared the news and his thoughts in a letter, the contents of which are presented below.

2012 Davis Productivity Eagle Award Winner!!!

Congratulations to the Statewide Guardian ad Litem Program, its staff, volunteers, non-profits, and supporters for receiving the most prestigious award from Prudential-Davis Productivity Awards, Florida TaxWatch. The Program was nominated for "Streamlining Efficiencies to Focus on Commitment to Children" in September 2011.

The GAL Program's nomination and award was based on the facts that it's the State Program that costs the least and benefits the most. (Blue Ribbon Panel Rilya Wilson 2002). By utilizing over 16,000 volunteers over the last 5 years, committed staff working to support child advocacy, engaging non-profits committed to supporting the program and children, utilizing pro bono attorneys around the state, and in particular through the Legal Aid Society of the Orange County Bar Association has saved the State millions of dollars. We have established a private/public partnership securing money with our local non-profits; established an online portal for volunteers resulting in cost savings; and established an online training for program and pro bono attorneys resulting in free Continuing Legal Education Credits (CLEs).

The Davis Productivity Award publicly recognizes state employees 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 is a major government improvement initiative chaired by Florida's Lt. Governor and co-sponsored by Florida TaxWatch, The Florida Council of 100, and the State of Florida.

This year, 533 nominations were submitted worth millions in cost savings, cost avoidances and increased revenue for state government. Of the 533 nominations, there were only 16 nominations that received the prestigious Eagle Award. And the Guardian ad Litem Program is one of them! There will be an awards ceremony in Tallahassee on June 1, 2012 where the Program will be recognized and receive this amazing award.

Thank you to our staff and volunteers of this great Program. Without you, this would not be possible!

Sincerely,
 

Alan Abramowitz
Executive Director

Ten Volunteer Guardians ad Litem Sworn In

On Wednesday, April 4, 2012, ten volunteers were sworn in as guardians ad litem at the Leon County Courthouse in downtown Tallahassee.

Joining Circuit Director Deborah Moore in welcoming the new guardians ad litem were Assistant Circuit Director Leigh Merritt and other members of the Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program staff.

The ceremony began with brief remarks from Deborah Moore. She thanked and congratulated the new volunteers and introduced the members of her staff in attendance. She also spoke about the "A Voice Heard" 2012 Status Report and encouraged everyone to read it.

Next, Moore turned things over to the Circuit Judge presiding over the swearing in ceremony, the Honorable Dawn Caloca-Johnson. After thanking the new volunteers and inviting them to approach the bench, Judge Caloca-Johnson briefly discussed the process from her perspective and highlighted the importance, value and essential nature of guardians ad litem. She then asked each volunteer to introduce themselves.

After meeting the volunteers, Judge Caloca-Johnson asked them to raise their right hands and repeat the oath as administered. Completing the ceremony, Judge Caloca-Johnson congratulated the new guardians ad litem and the courtroom broke into applause. Before moving on to her next judicial proceeding, Judge Caloca-Johnson took a few minutes to answer questions and take photographs with the volunteers.

We are very proud of and thankful for all of our volunteer guardians ad litem!

To see our photographs from this event, view the Volunteers Sworn In 2012-04-04 set on Flickr.

Event Update: Saturday's Volunteer Recruitment Coffee

The times for this Saturday's Volunteer Recruitment Coffee have been updated.

Our volunteers will be available between 10:00 AM and 12:00 PM at the Starbucks at Governor's Square Mall to tell you about our organization, what we do and how you can help.

Subscribe to our blog RSS feed and follow us on Twitter to get the latest news and updates.

Ask a Mentor: Talking to Caregivers

Volunteer Question

I'm a little uncomfortable making suggestions or giving advice to a caregiver. I've been a volunteer for only a year and since you have been a guardian ad litem for a long time, I thought you would have a better perspective on this. Though I've noticed some things which I wish could be changed to benefit the children, I've been hesitant to say anything. I'm concerned that a really big issue will come up and that I won't feel prepared to talk to the caregiver.

Mentor Answer

This is an area which does take some good judgment on the part of the guardian ad litem. Think of it as bringing up a concern affecting the safety or welfare of the children rather than as giving advice. Judge whether what you observe is something you can overlook, whether it is something you should talk about or whether it is an issue you need to talk about and report. You have a mentor and a volunteer supervisor with whom you can talk to help make decisions about what to do. And sometimes you may want to consult with the dependency case manager if it is related to the case plan. The dependency case manager may need to deal with the issue.

Once I had a case where the caregiver yelled at the children (hers and my child) all the time. I soon learned there was no meanness in her voice and it did not seem to bother the children. I decided to overlook it. In another case, however, I discovered the caregiver was allowing my 9-year-old to ride in the front seat. I did speak to caregiver about that and also reported it to the volunteer supervisor and case manager. If I were to find that a baby in my case was sleeping in the bed with an adult, I would want to speak up about that. These are definite concerns about child safety.

If you feel hesitant to speak to an older caregiver who may have been raising children for a long time, think of ways to bring up an issue without giving advice or being judgmental. For example, with the child riding in the front seat you might say, "for the child's safety, he should be twelve to ride in the front seat. What is your understanding about their riding in the front?"

The question helps pull the caregiver into the conversation so that you can more easily push for the children to ride in the back. Just keep in mind that your focus is the safety and welfare of the child, not preferences you may have for the way the caregiver functions, and that you always have someone with whom to consult if you are unsure.

Ask a Mentor: Case Notes and Documentation

Volunteer Question

I'm confused about something. I was talking with my volunteer supervisor about my judicial review guardian ad litem report to the court, which is due in a couple of weeks. I told her I couldn't remember whether "Billy" said he heard from his mom on his birthday. Then my volunteer supervisor asked me to check my case notes to see what I had written. I jot down things on pieces of paper sometimes and stick them in a manila folder. What does she mean by case notes?

Mentor Answer

Your case notes document everything you, the guardian ad litem, does on the case—an ongoing chronological record.

I'm a big fan of complete case notes because I use them so much. It's a problem to take a case from a former volunteer who kept no notes as I don't know what the guardian has been doing. I'm at a disadvantage, too, when taking a case which has re-opened in court and the file given me from the previous guardian has nothing but a few emails and some court documents. A guardian's work involves much more than what appears in a guardian ad litem's report or child visit report.

It is easy for me to use the computer to keep a running record of everything I do—phone calls made, phone calls that don't get returned, notes from staffing, interviews, more detail on a visit to the child than I need to put into my report, brief reference to emails exchanged, what happened in court, etcetera. I then periodically print up my notes and put them in the file. Others prefer handwritten notes on log sheets.

I reread my notes carefully before writing a report or going to a staffing, and I really study them before testifying at a termination of parental rights trial. Keep in mind that your file and notes can be seen by other parties. There is a good set of reminders about documentation at the end of chapter nine in your training manual. One primary job of the volunteer is monitoring the case and documenting the work you have done on it.

Your notes are going to serve as evidence of the work you have done on a case. If you don't document it, it didn't happen!

Ask a Mentor: Addressing Situations of Concern

Volunteer Question

I'm really upset. I'm on my second case now and I made my first home visit late this afternoon. The case involves four children who are placed together in a home. The two boys are seven and eight. The girls are five and fifteen months. The caregiver had everyone in the living room when I got there. There was a space heater plugged in with a long extension cord and the toddler was wandering around near it. The caregiver picked up the toddler and made all the others sit where she told them to sit.

Almost immediately she began to scold the 5-year-old girl "Janie," berating her for wetting her pants in kindergarten today. Then she mentioned four or five other "bad" things Janie had done since she got home. She ignored the boys except for scolding them because they were slow to respond when I asked them about school. You could tell she liked the toddler as she kept saying fond things to her while being harsh to Janie and scolding the boys.

I worried about these children all the way home. They've been through a lot already and really need a supportive caregiver. What should I do?

Mentor Answer

You sound as though you did a really good job of observing during your visit and you are right to be concerned. Send an email tonight to both the case manager and to your volunteer supervisor describing what you observed. If you don't hear back from them tomorrow, call them. The case manager may have concerns about the placement and your observations could help her decide about the appropriateness of this placement. The space heater sounds like a safety hazard and the emotional environment does sound negative.

Why don't you plan to make another visit in a few days, unannounced this time, either to confirm your concerns or feel better about the placement? This could help you clarify your impressions. You will find that most placement homes are good for the children, but sometimes a negative situation occurs. I'm glad you were observant of what was going on and want to make things better for the children.