Legislative Budget Requests Announced

On Friday, October 12, 2012, Statewide Guardian ad Litem Program Executive Director Alan Abramowitz sent staff and volunteers a letter summarizing his office's legislative budget requests for fiscal year 2013–2014.

The program has two legislative budget requests totaling $3.9 million, the same amount as the current fiscal year, which it will submit on Monday, October 15, 2012.

For details on the requests, the complete text of Abramowitz's letter is available below.

From Alan Abramowitz, Executive Director

On October 15, 2012, the Statewide Guardian ad Litem Office will submit its FY 13-14 Legislative Budget Request. Consistent with our vision for the future of the GAL Program, the Program is submitting two Legislative Budget Requests totaling $3.9 million, which is the same amount our Program requested in FY 12-13. The first issue totals $1.8 million and seeks recurring funding to continue the non-recurring general revenue appropriation we received in the FY 12-13. The second issue requests $2.1 million for salary adjustments in recognition of the transformation of jobs and functions of GAL staff.

The Guardian ad Litem Long Range Program Plan (LRPP) details a 5-year strategy for compliance with Florida Statutes to represent every abused, abandoned and neglected child in the dependency system. Using $1.8 million in non-recurring general revenue funds appropriated by the 2012 Florida Legislature, the Statewide Guardian ad Litem Program is aggressively recruiting new volunteers this fiscal year. The Program goal is to have a growth of 2,025 volunteers, and the total number of GAL volunteers will top 10,000 by June 30, 2013. Ninety percent (90%) of all direct child advocacy will then be done by volunteers who are supported by paid staff.

By the end of FY 12-13, unpaid citizen volunteers, rather than paid staff, will represent about 71% of all children in the dependency system. At that point, the GAL Program will reach capacity in terms of the numbers of volunteers that can be supervised by existing child advocate coordinators in the GAL Program. After these new volunteers are on board and fully trained, they will represent approximately 22,317 children-an increase of 1.5% in children served and a significant shift in resource allocation. Funding of our budget issues will increase the percentage of dependent children served to 75%.

Presently, the workload is such that each paid Child Advocate Coordinators (previously called case coordinators) already represents an average of 45 children, giving them very little time to spend with each child. Full implementation of our strategy means that a paid GAL employee will supervise an average of 38 volunteers, who in turn represent an average of 76 children collectively. This model increases the capacity of each paid case coordinator by 81%, and provides a higher quality and more intensive service to the children represented. Studies have shown that children who are represented by a volunteer have better outcomes than those who are served by paid staff carrying a large caseload. Children who are served by volunteers return to foster care at a rate half that of other children. They do better in school and are more likely to pass all courses. They get more help while they are in the dependency system. The Guardian ad Litem Program tracks the number of GAL volunteers who are certified as educational advocates for the children they represent. This is a critical step toward ensuring that each child goes to school and stays in school. Ninety-nine percent of all children ages 5-17 are now enrolled in school.

A consistent theme in the GAL legislative budget request is improving our return on investment. In December 2007, little more than half (55%) of the children served by the GAL Program were represented by volunteer advocates. As a result of our aggressive recruitment initiative, we have successfully increased that percentage to more than 72% represented by volunteers. The model we have implemented maximizes the resources of paid staff, by using them to supervise volunteers who give more personal time and attention to each child served.

Making this new model successful depends on continuing our vigorous recruitment of volunteers and adjusting the salaries of existing staff so that they can manage volunteer guardians rather than caseloads of children. Each year, GAL volunteers contribute more than $20 million in time, goods and services to the program, saving taxpayers' money and providing a high quality of service to children in need.

The GAL Program has instituted a transparent process for accountability in performance through creation of a monthly Scorecard which is posted on our website. The expanded use of volunteers has become a Scorecard measure. The Scorecard uses quantitative data to demonstrate that GAL advocacy correlates with improved case outcomes and to guide the efficient and effective use of resources for meeting the needs of children in the dependency system. Special weight was given to the voices of children and youth in the foster care system who participated in a survey of children whose voices confirmed the importance of the bond they develop with a GAL volunteer.

The GAL Program's efficiency and effectiveness were recently recognized by Florida Taxwatch's prestigious Prudential-Davis Productivity Awards, which honored the Program with a 2012 Eagle Award - the highest honor given. The award was made in recognition that the State Program "costs the least and benefits the most..." (Blue Ribbon Panel, Rilya Wilson 2002). By utilizing more than 18,000 volunteers over the last 5 years, 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, the Program has saved the State millions of dollars. The worth of these volunteers and their contributions exceeds $20 million a year. The Program was also selected by Senator Marco Rubio as a national 2012 "Angel in Adoption" award recipient under the Congressional Coalition on Adoption's (CCAI) national recognition program. This coalition honors more than 150 Angels nationwide for excellence in finding forever families for children in the foster care system. The Angel awards are one of the highest honors given by the State's congressional delegation.

While not directly impacted by the Enterprise Efficiency Initiatives being coordinated by Department of Children and Families (DCF) Secretary David Wilkins, the GAL initiatives are certainly well-aligned. The aggressive recruitment of volunteers complements the Secretary's approach to building stronger community partnerships and engaging communities to solve local problems, whenever possible. Further, the Secretary's focus on every child having a mentor is supported by the work of dedicated guardians who often become life-long advocates for their assigned children. DCF's goal is that every child have a mentor will put a high focus on the appointment of mentors for dependent children. Although each mentor will be selected individually based on their relationship with the child, many of our GAL volunteers are already mentors and we will be providing training to our volunteers on what it means to mentor a child. This will equip them to meet the need for more mentors, when the situation is appropriate. Our all-volunteer initiative is effectively complementing (not duplicating) the work of community based care case managers who carry caseloads of dependent children, as GAL paid staff move away from carrying caseloads of children, and toward supervision and management of a team of volunteers.

Thank you for your support and dedication to children. This email only addresses the budget request and not our substantive legislative proposals on "normalcy" for children in foster care. Please feel free to give me feedback and comments so I can make the best argument to support the best interest of children.

Comments are closed after ninety days.