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 May 2013 archive sorted chronologically with the newest at the top.

New Event: Guardian ad Litem Appreciation Day 2013

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.

Guardian ad Litem Appreciation Day
Our 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. View the event flyer to learn more and find out how you can help.

New Event: Guardian ad Litem Bookfair

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.

Guardian ad Litem Bookfair
Buy books and support children in the community at our monthly Guardian ad Litem Bookfair. Use our vouchers at purchase and a portion of your sale will be donated to us. View the event flyer to learn more and download your vouchers.

National CASA Podcast Series

Did you know that National CASA has a podcast series? The podcast episodes generally cover a specific topic and provide information as well as insight that may be of interest to staff and volunteer guardians ad litem.

The most recent episode, "Improving Outcomes for Older Youth", may be of particular interest.

"Older youth often age out of the foster care system without the tools and resources needed to successfully transition to adulthood. CASA and GAL volunteers that have been trained with the National CASA Fostering Futures curriculum are more aware of the needs of older youth and are better able to work alongside them to realize better outcomes. In this podcast, four staff members from the Essex County CASA program in Newark, NJ discuss their experiences implementing Fostering Futures and how they are tracking and documenting outcomes."

You can listen to this episode now, browse and listen to previous episodes and subscribe to the podcast series. Happy listening!

An Ode from Son to Mom on Mother's Day

Katherine Blyth is a familiar name to those at the Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program and within the local guardian ad litem community.

For over ten years, Blyth has been a supporter of and volunteer for our program. As a supporter, she has personally contributed time and resources to assist with our mission, the needs of children in the community and special events, often in collaboration with community supporter Trak Engineering, Inc., which Blyth co-founded in 1981.

As a volunteer, Blyth has provided invaluable assistance to children whose cases she was assigned. She has been recognized for her accomplishments on a number occasions, most recently in May 2012 as recipient of the George Thompson Training Award.

For Mother's Day this year, Blyth's eldest son Marc Malonzo decided to share with the world "on this most special of days" how he feels about his mother, the positive impact she makes on his life and her contribution to children in the community.

Malonzo, a Tallahassee native now living in Sunnyvale, California, eagerly granted us permission to republish his essay so that we could share it with our readers and the local community.

"My intention was to let everyone know," said Malonzo.

Thank you to Marc for sharing this wonderful ode to a wonderful woman.

Happy Mother's Day!

In the lottery of life, I won big time…
by Marc Malonzo
Sunday, May 12, 2013

An ode to the woman who brought me into this world…

Original Photo Credit: Marc Malonzo --- Katherine Blyth, date unknown.

I love my mom. On the surface, it's rather cliché — everyone loves their mom, it's a basic almost primal part of life. But in this case, it's more than just the love of a child for his mother, my mom is truly a special human being, and I wanted to share this with everyone I know. Even at the risk of being called a "momma's boy," I'm not afraid to say it: my mom is one of the coolest, smartest, and kindest people I know!

Of all the life lessons she has imparted upon me, the one that defines my mother the best is "work hard, play hard." She started her own computer consulting company in her mid-thirties, built it up and sold it, and then retired at the ripe old age of forty-two. She and my stepdad also own a condo that is one-third of a block off of Bourbon Street in New Orleans. If that doesn't epitomize the "work hard, play hard" philosophy, I don't know what does!

After retirement, my mom turned to volunteering. Most notably, she became a guardian ad litem (which, for those of you that don't know, is a person appointed by the court to represent the interests of a child in a custody case — in short: they are the voice of the child in the courtroom). Within a few short years she had also become the president of Child Advocates II, a non-profit organization whose mission was to help raise funds and general support for the Guardian ad Litem Program — which, together with being a guardian with several assigned cases, was almost a full time job. She was even selected by the Tallahassee Democrat as the volunteer of the year, but she turned the award down, explaining that she did not do the things she did for recognition.

To give you a little insight as to some of the impact she had as a volunteer, I turn to the words of a child from one of her cases. This child entered (and won!) an essay contest on the subject of "divine inner beauty" and she chose to write it about my mom. The following is an excerpt from that essay, and while a little long (for an excerpt) it is a moving read and I don't think I could make the point any better myself.

"In my case, my life was impacted on a personal level by a woman named Katherine Blyth. Her inner beauty made a huge impact on my life in ways that most people cannot relate. When I was eight years old, I was placed in foster care. Being so young I couldn't really understand what was going on and I kind of felt as though somehow it was my fault. I met Mrs. Katherine because she was assigned to my case as a volunteer guardian ad litem. She came and did nothing but be nice and help me understand what was happening and that it wasn't my fault. I called her my 'guardian angel' because I wasn't used to meeting people who cared and did so much for a person they did not know or at least was not related to them.

Now I am seventeen years old and she is still in my life as a motivator and she is helping me reach my goal in life. When I was younger I kind of felt unloved and unwanted and that I couldn't do anything in my life but follow in the footsteps of my family and repeat my family's history. Katherine helped me understand that there is nothing in life that I can't do! And that I don't have to follow in their footsteps because I am my own person and I can do anything I want to better myself and my life. I wanted to give up on school and life but she helped me get assistance with school and get a better understanding of things in my life. Katherine is a sweet person and kind hearted. She helps any and every body she can. Her inner beauty is just so beautiful I truly would not be where I am today, graduating from high school this year and also having my current mindset. She is a godly woman with a caring and genuine heart. I now call her my Godmother and she plays a major role in my life to this day and hopefully in my future."

And this was only one of many children my mom helped in her time as a guardian! I cannot express the pride and emotion I experience when I think of all that my mom has done to help children that aren't even her own.

In addition to all of her above accomplishments, my superlative mother was also a full time mom of six children (biological mother of three and stepmother of three more) — and she loved, nurtured, taught, and encouraged each of us to be the best we can be in life. My memories of growing up under her roof are some of my fondest, and our family remains closely knit thanks to the way she ran her household. My mother's favorite saying is "steadfast perseverance," and I think she has imparted that unto us by example. This is a woman we can all look up to, and I hope to grow to become even half the person she is.

I am here to say that I stand in awe of my mother as one of the most decent and inspiring human beings I have had the privilege to meet. I count my blessings every day, to not only know her, but to call her my mom. And on this most holy of holidays, I had to let the world know just how special she is and how lucky the world is to have her.

Original Photo Credit: Marc Malonzo --- Katherine Blyth and children, date unknown.

Happy Mother's Day, Momma!!!

I love you more than words can express, but the above was my best attempt. I hope you know you mean the world to me and I would be completely lost without you! I love you with every beat of my heart!

GAL Volunteers Recognized at Local Awards Ceremony

On Thursday, April 25, 2013, the Tallahassee Democrat held their annual Volunteer of the Year awards luncheon. Nominated in the social services category from our program were volunteer guardians ad litem Mattie Johnson, Lisa Peerson and Jan Watford.

According to Circuit Director Deborah Moore, Johnson, Peerson and Watford are extremely kind-hearted, committed to advocating for our children and excellent program representatives.

All three women were recognized at the event with certificates, but Watford was surprised and delighted to discover that she won the Jefferson Award, the highest accolade handed out. Watford will next represent our area at the national Jefferson Award event this June in Washington, D.C.

"We are extremely happy for all three of our very special guardian ad litem volunteers," said Moore.

The Democrat's article on the event is presented below in case you missed it. You can also read the Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program's nomination letter for Jan Watford.

Thank you to the Tallahassee Democrat and congratulations to our wonderful volunteers!

Mattie Johnson, Jan Watford and Lisa Peerson
Johnson, Watford and Peerson
click to see larger photographs on Flickr

Tallahassee Democrat honors Volunteers of the Year
by Jordan Culver
Thursday, April 25, 2013
Tallahassee Democrat
News

The Tallahassee Democrat honored its 2013 Volunteers of the Year Thursday afternoon during a ceremony in a packed University Center Club at Florida State University.

Categories included arts, business and government agencies, civic services, education, nonprofit organizations, religion and social services and youth. The Jefferson Award for Public Service honoree was then chosen from the winners of those categories.

Jan Watford, who volunteers with Leon County's guardian ad litem program, was chosen as the Civic Services Volunteer of the Year and was also this year's Jefferson Award winner. She will travel to Washington to compete in a national competition.

Award winners received a plaque and a $300 donation to the charity of their choice from the Tallahassee Democrat. Nominees also received a certificate.

Other winners included: Bonnie Dunkle (arts), Burch Orthodontics (business/government agency), Brent Hartsfield (religion/social services), Maxwell Carraway (education), Delta Kappa Omega Foundation (nonprofit organization/club) and Kaytron Coker (youth).

Copyright © 2013, Tallahassee Democrat. All Rights Reserved.
 

Circuit Director's Nomination Letter for Jan Watford

Jan Watford has been a guardian ad litem volunteer with our program for seven years. Jan's enthusiasm for her role and responsibilities as a guardian ad litem volunteer has stayed strong the entire time.

About six months ago, Jan agreed to serve as a volunteer team leader. Jan comes into our office every day and works closely with one of our volunteer supervisors to help her support volunteers by answering emails and voice messages, remind volunteers about court hearings, reassure and encourage volunteers and organize and manage files. Jan also serves as a peer mentor for new volunteers. Jan provides guidance and direction to our new volunteers during their first year, a very critical time for our new volunteers.

Last year, Jan agreed to serve as chair of our Independent Living Advisory Committee. Jan is especially passionate about our older youth transitioning from foster case out on their own. Jan has been instrumental to help the circuit director move the committee forward and begin training all of our volunteers with a national curriculum to support guardian ad litem volunteers to serve as mentors as well as advocates for our older youth.

Jan has endless energy when it comes to her guardian ad litem volunteer activities. We all get emails from her late into the night! Jan also participates on our Educational Advocacy Committee. Jan is a great help to the circuit director to help communicate regularly with our committee members, create agendas, write up minutes and distribute information.

Every guardian ad litem child deserves someone in their corner standing up for them. Jan makes sure that every child she represents gets every bit of time and attention that she has available. Everyone who meets and talks with Jan is always impressed with how persistent and relentless she can be when it comes to the best interest of the guardian ad litem children. The help that Jan provides as a volunteer team leader supporting one of our volunteer supervisors is invaluable as it directly affects our volunteer retention. Jan provides the much needed backup to our volunteer supervisor and ensures our volunteers receive support in a timely and caring manner.

Jan continues to stay involved with the older youth well after our program and the court has discharged from the case. Jan is intent on making sure that the older youth she advocates for continue to benefit from support and guidance. Many of our youth leave the foster care system without the support of a parent and need someone that can depend on and knows they care like Jan. Whether she continues to mentor the youth or not, all her guardian ad litem children are in her heart forever.

Jan's advocacy is impressive to everyone, not just us. Jan was recently recognized at the Florida Department of Children and Families Black History Month celebration at the Old Capitol Museum for her many years of advocacy with a sibling group; three wonderful young men she is completely devoted to and always has been. The guardian ad litem volunteer role is rewarding but it can be challenging at times so to maintain involvement for so many years is a great achievement. When Jan was first assigned as the boys' guardian ad litem volunteer, they were not welcoming and could not communicate much with her but she was persistent and patience. After a while, they started to call her and ask when she is going to come visit next! Jan agreed to accompany the Guardian ad Litem Program circuit director and executive director to the Capitol recently to visit with various legislators and share her experience as a guardian ad litem volunteer.

When Jan was recognized at the event at the Old Capitol Museum, she received a standing ovation but what Jan talks most about is how happy they boys were that day. Jan is humble, but she deserves lots of accolades and standing ovations! When Jan hits a barrier or obstacle, Jan becomes very innovative and creative to reach her goal for the children that she represents. Jan has learned how to get creative to gather information and make things happen for her guardian ad litem children. Jan has learned how to win some of her children over by bringing treats on her visits and will often show up with homemade cookies. Jan visits her guardian ad litem children at their school and brings them lunch from their favorite place. Jan is the type of individual that is happiest when she making other happy and doing for others.

Whenever we need help, we always think of Jan because her answer is always yes! We are so grateful for Jan's participation in the Guardian ad Litem Program and for her passion and commitment to the guardian ad litem children. Jan attends just about every continuing education opportunity we have available for our guardian ad litem volunteers. Jan wants to learn as much as she can to be the best guardian ad litem volunteer and advocate for each of her children.

Update
2013-07-28: added Jan Watford's nomination letter submitted for the award.

Florida Department of Children and Families Transformation Project

On Thursday, May 2, 2013, Statewide Guardian ad Litem Program Executive Director Alan Abramowitz sent to staff and volunteers information about the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) Transformation Project.

"The DCF Transformation Project is built upon expectations for desirable outcomes — not just processes. This is expected to result in fewer re-abuse cases and improved investigations since families will be engaged in a meaningful way."

You can read Abramowitz's entire message which is presented below.

Department of Children and Families Transformation Project
by Alan Abramowitz
Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Department of Children and Families (DCF) is transforming the child welfare system to improve child safety and well-being. I would like to take this opportunity to share information about the Transformation Project, and affirm my own hope and positive expectations, and the support of the Guardian ad Litem Program for this vision.

The reason for DCF's changes is that our state cannot allow high rates of re-abuse, repeat investigations and excessive staff turnover to continue. DCF and their partners believe that the transformation will result in

  • Improved decision making by front line staff;
  • Reduced re-abuse of children; and
  • Fewer repeat investigations through more complete assessment of safety and more robust engagement of families.

State law now requires anyone who suspects that a child is being abused or neglected to report it by calling the Florida Abuse Hotline at (800) 962-2873. At the hotline's operation center, a new screening process will help to better identify unsafe children. Upgraded technology at the hotline will allow decisions to be made with more complete information when Child Protective Investigators and case managers in the field engage with families. Their assessments will be based not just on what happened, but on why it happened.

By having the right information on the families they deal with, investigators and case managers can make better decisions regarding safety plans and more individualized services. The additional information will help to determine protective capacity and ongoing services intervention by DCF's community partners. This will emphasize symptoms and compliance with case plans. At the same time, we will need to also emphasize behavior changes that must occur in the family to ensure the children are safe.

Many experts have been involved in the development of the new process. It will engage families earlier and will give workers on the front line the support and services they need to address each family's challenges. In addition, there will be more tracking of in-home services. Instead of the current practice, where investigators may make a referral for services and close the investigation, these cases will now be tracked to ensure that services are in place and having the desired effect. There will be a process to work with children's legal services if a child becomes unsafe.

The DCF Transformation Project is built upon expectations for desirable outcomes — not just processes. This is expected to result in fewer re-abuse cases, and improved investigations since families will be engaged in a meaningful way.

With years of experience in child welfare, we all know about the trauma that occurs when children are removed from their families. This transformation to engage families with intensive services is a positive step forward. The group that developed this project included many child advocates. There was also extensive input from local and community leaders. I was fortunate to be continuously briefed on the transformation, as a member of the Child Protection Transformation Advisory Board.

DCF implemented recommendations developed by both an independent task force as well as the Miami-Dade Grand Jury, following a disturbing case of child abuse two years ago that led to the death of ten-year-old Nubia Barahona. There were many lessons learned from this case. These lessons are being applied.

Additionally, DCF prepared a complete legislative package to establish a true front end capability for the child protective investigation function. The legislative package had two components.

  1. Improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the investigative process through changes to our child protection laws.
  2. Redesign the career model and operating processes including performance management of the child protective investigators.

DCF Secretary Wilkins is embracing this early engagement of families. We must recognize this major transformation, and I am hopeful that this will lead to stronger families by reducing child abuse in Florida. Secretary Wilkins will be closely monitoring the results as the project moves forward.

I am available to answer your questions and provide information. Feel free to contact me by email or at (850) 241-3232. Thank you for your dedication and commitment to children.

Respectfully,

Alan Abramowitz
Executive Director

For additional details on the transformation, visit the Center for Child Welfare's training site.

A Voice Heard: 2013 Guardian ad Litem Program Status Report

Florida Guardian ad Litem Program "A Voice Heard: Building Trust and Hope" 2013 Status Report

The Statewide Guardian ad Litem Office provides an annual report "to the Governor, the President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court."[1]

This year's report — "A Voice Heard: Building Trust and Hope" 2013 Status Report — was published on Thursday, April 4, 2013 and is available for download.

An abridged excerpt from the report's executive summary is provided below.

In February 2012, the Guardian ad Litem Program published A Voice Heard. In this report, 152 elementary, middle and high school students, as well as former foster youth, were asked a series of questions to determine their experiences with and expectations of their GAL volunteer. The results were compiled and analyzed for common themes to assist the program in improving its advocacy both within the courtroom and in the community. The themes that emerged taught us that young people want four things.

  1. Personal Interest — caring, concern and emotional support
  2. Advocacy — judicial, educational and situational
  3. Communication — talking, listening and understanding
  4. Trust — responsiveness, honesty and reliability

These findings have been used to improve GAL training, build a strategic plan, and create a scorecard to ensure accountability for the children we serve. The significance of the youthful voices made it clear that we must continue to engage children in these conversations; fine-tuning our program model and sharing the results with others who can make an impact on the quality of their lives.

During the 2012 Florida legislative session, statutory language was passed which gives guardians ad litem the authority to transport the children they represent. Subsequently, the program launched a second initiative, A Voice Heard: Building Trust and Hope, focusing on the benefits of transportation for children represented by the Program…

[1] § 39.8296 (2)(b)(7), Florida Statutes (2011).

In Print: Tallahassee Democrat

The Tallahassee Democrat recently ran a photograph and small paragraph featuring the Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program.

In the clipping by Glenn Beil, a photograph of our cardboard cut outs displayed in front of the Leon County Court Annex is displayed under the headline "GAL Program promoting children's issues" and containing the following text.

"April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month and May is National Foster Care Month. The Guardian ad Litem Program is helping to promote awareness of these two important issues by displaying messages outside the main office in the Leon County Court Annex on Thomasville Road. The State of Florida Guardian ad Litem Program is a network of professional staff and community advocates partnering to provide a strong voice in court on behalf of Florida's abused and neglected children. Visit guardianadlitem.org for information on becoming a volunteer guardian ad litem."

The entire clipping is presented below in case you missed it.

Original Photo Credit: Tallahassee Democrat/Glenn Beil --- Cardboard cuts outs of children with messages displayed in front of the Leon County Court Annex in Tallahassee, Florida

Thank you to the Democrat for once again featuring our program and mission with their readers.

2013 Legislative Session: Good News for GAL Program

On Monday, May 6, 2013, Statewide Guardian ad Litem Program Executive Director Alan Abramowitz sent out his annual post-legislative session summary report.

In short, the session was a good one for guardians ad litem in Florida and the children that they represent.

You can read his entire message which is presented below.

Summary of 2013 Legislative Session: Good News for GAL Program
by Alan Abramowitz
Monday, May 6, 2013

  • The 2013 legislative session has concluded
  • GAL program receives increase in funding
  • Significant legislation passed impacting our children

The 2013 legislative session finished last week. It was a great year for children who come in contact with the foster care system. In addition to receiving a significant increase in funding, the Guardian ad Litem Program supported the legislature in passing two important pieces of legislation directly impacting the children and young adults for whom we advocate in court.

The Guardian ad Litem Program received an additional $3.8 million dollars in funding for Fiscal Year 2013–2014. We have a strong commitment from the House and Senate leadership to increase representation of children in foster care and ensure that in the coming years, every child will have a voice through a GAL child advocate.

The first piece of substantive legislation is the "Let Kids Be Kids" bill or the "Normalcy Law." Special thanks to Senator Nancy Detert and Representative Ben Albritton who sponsored this bill. Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford also actively supported this legislation as it received a unanimous vote on the House and Senate floor.

No longer will caregivers have to break the rules to allow kids to participate in normal activities. Decisions for children and youth in foster care will now be based on what is best for the child, not on providers' risk management decisions. In effect, the laws involving what children can do in foster care will be codified in statute in a manner consistent with our values. This law goes into effect July 1, 2013.

The other major piece of legislation extends foster care to age twenty-one and redesigns the independent living program. This bill is called the "Nancy C. Detert Common Sense and Compassion Independent Living Act." Senator Detert (who years before had sponsored the "Road to Independence" law) and Representative Keith Perry both sponsored this important bill. Youth who decide to continue in their placement beyond age eighteen can and will have the support of their caregiver. No longer will a youth be required to pack their items and find somewhere else to live, on their eighteenth birthday, even if they are still in high school. Youth in post-secondary school can still take advantage of the "Road to Independence" if they choose. This law becomes effective January 1, 2014.

I will be visiting each Circuit over the next few months to talk about this legislation, thank you for the great work you do each and every day and discuss our goals for the coming fiscal year which begins July 1. My conversations with staff and volunteers, along with the many stories I hear about the children you advocate for, are clearly the driving force for me in leading the GAL Program. Your advocacy is strong and I am aware that our success this year is due to the work each of you do for children. We have the greatest team of advocates of any organization and I truly believe by the thirty-fifth anniversary of the Guardian ad Litem Program in 2015, we can have a GAL for every child in foster care.

Keep up the great work and thank for your dedication, commitment and advocacy.

Respectfully,

Alan Abramowitz
Executive Director