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 February 2014 archive sorted chronologically with the newest at the top.

New Event: Continuing Education Training

We regularly host, sponsor and support a variety of events that provide community outreach, increase awareness of our program, help recruit new volunteers, raise funds and furnish training to our volunteer guardians ad litem. The following event was recently added to our calendar.

Icon: Book Continuing Education

New CAII Partners Welcomed

The Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program and Child Advocates II (CAII) work to build partnerships with individuals, businesses and organizations in the community.

Without the assistance provided by our CAII Partners CAII Partner and community supporters, ensuring children have a court-appointed volunteer guardian ad litem, legal assistance and financial resources would be extremely difficult.

The following CAII Partners were recently added to Community Supporters.

We thank Keycode, Stone River and all of our partners and supporters for their generous contributions!

New Events: Continuing Education Training

We regularly host, sponsor and support a variety of events that provide community outreach, increase awareness of our program, help recruit new volunteers, raise funds and furnish training to our volunteer guardians ad litem. The following events were recently added to our calendar.

Icon: Book Continuing Education

Director's Column: February 2014

Our program holds quarterly swearing in ceremonies at the Leon County Courthouse for our newly certified volunteers. The audience is often filled with guardian ad litem peer mentors in support of their guardian ad litem mentees and new volunteers often invite their family and friends.

The Honorable Karen Gievers, Honorable Martin Fitzpatrick or Honorable George Reynolds administers the guardian ad litem oath to our new volunteers. The ceremony is an important time to reinforce the serious responsibility our volunteers have to the child they support in our program.

During the most recent ceremony, I listened to our new volunteers recite the guardian ad litem oath, repeating each word after it was read aloud by Judge Fitzpatrick.

"I, [name], do solemnly affirm that I will faithfully execute the duties of a guardian ad litem and do everything in my power to protect and defend the best interests of the children to whom I am appointed."

I silently repeated each word along with our volunteers, reminding myself of the promise to be there every step of the way for the children in the program. The last sentence ended the ceremony with a meaningful and lasting statement.

I am the child's voice and will faithfully represent their best interests at all times.
I am for the child.
Original Photo Credit: gal2.org/Christine Gornik --- Volunteer guardian ad litem swearing in ceremony at the Leon County Courthouse in Tallahassee, Florida on January 22, 2014

Omega Wynn Recognized at Black History Month Celebration

On Wednesday, February 12, 2014, the Florida Department of Children and Families hosted their seventh Black History Month Celebration at the R.A. Gray Building in downtown Tallahassee.

Celebrating the contributions and accomplishments of African-American adoptive and foster parents, partners, civic leaders and DCF employees, this year's event featured an honoree familiar to our local guardian ad litem community.

With his energetic personality and contagious smile, Omega Wynn is an individual for whom the Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program is grateful. He was recognized by interim Department of Children and Families Secretary Esther Jacobo at the Black History Month Celebration for his work as a community partner in concert with his employer Starbucks CAII Partner for whom he serves as district manager in our region.

Original Photo Credit: gal2.org/Deborah Moore --- Honoree Omega Wynn and Circuit Director Deborah Moore at the Florida Department of Children and Families Black History Month Celebration at the R.A. Gray Building in Tallahassee, Florida on February 12, 2014Original Photo Credit: gal2.org/Deborah Moore --- Honoree Omega Wynn accepts a certificate from interim Florida Department of Children and Families Secretary Esther Jacobo at the DCF Black History Month Celebration at the R.A. Gray Building in Tallahassee, Florida on February 12, 2014

Wynn's dedication to our program is exemplified by his years of contributions as a community supporter, Child Advocates II board member and, more recently, his certification as a guardian ad litem case volunteer in 2012.

"I was thrilled when I learned that our very own Omega Wynn would be honored at the Department of Children and Families Black History Month event," said Circuit Director Deborah Moore, who joined Wynn for the festivities. "Our program and community are so fortunate to have Omega's unwavering compassion and giving spirit."

This is but the latest accolade for Wynn. The Florida Guardian ad Litem Program statewide office recognized him as Community Supporter of the Year during their annual awards banquet in September 2013, while just earlier Child Advocates II named him Community Supporter of the Year at their annual appreciation day event in July 2013.

Those that know him appreciate well that Wynn makes his contributions not for awards or recognition, but to be able to make a real and positive difference in the lives of families and children in our community.

Thank you and congratulations to Omega Wynn!

Mattie Johnson Appointed to Serve on Statewide Committee

Last month, we published "DVAC Links Volunteers to the State Office" by program volunteer Dorothy "Dot" Binger that described the Director's Volunteer Advisory Committee (DVAC).

Comprised of Florida Guardian ad Litem Program Executive Director Alan Abramowitz and a volunteer from each of the twenty circuits, the Director's Volunteer Advisory Committee meets every month by way of teleconference.

Typical topics include legislative priorities, volunteer recruitment and retention, community outreach, special events and open discussion.

Binger has served as the Second Judicial Circuit representative on the committee for the past year. As this position is generally rotated on an annual basis, Abramowitz requested that each circuit director appoint a new volunteer for 2014.

On Friday, February 7, 2014, Circuit Director Deborah Moore announced the selection of Mattie Johnson as our new DVAC representative. Moore and Johnson both participated in the first teleconference of the year that took place on Thursday, January 30, 2014.

Johnson also serves as a member on our Volunteer Advisory Committee and in April 2013 was named Social Services Volunteer of the Year by the Tallahassee Democrat.

In addition to participating in the teleconference and sharing information about our program with the group, Johnson will also be responsible for passing along key information and minutes to our volunteers each month.

One sample news item is the announcement that in lieu of the annual Guardian ad Litem Day, the statewide office will instead partner with Children's Week this year. Their annual event is next scheduled for April 6–11, 2014.

Thanking Binger for her service on the committee during the past year, Moore said that "we are grateful for Dot's effort to enhance the work of our volunteers and ongoing commitment to our program and children."

Thank you again to Dot Binger and congratulations to Mattie Johnson!

Looking Ahead to the 2014 Florida Legislative Session

After Florida's regular legislative session convenes on Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 10:00 AM, several items pertaining to children eventually will come before the House of Representatives and Senate.

Florida Guardian ad Litem Program Executive Director Alan Abramowitz recently shared three articles that discuss legislative news of interest to program volunteers, staff and supporters.

The first article from his office is presented below. Links to the other two articles and additional information on the topics they discuss follow.

 

Fiscal Year 2014–2015 Legislative Priorities for the Florida Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program
by the Statewide Guardian ad Litem Office

As of November 2013, the Florida Guardian ad Litem Program represented seventy-six percent of abused, neglected and abandoned children statewide. There were 8,839 certified volunteers plus an additional 998 uncertified non-case volunteers across Florida's twenty judicial circuits.

In order to increase to one-hundred percent the number of children represented as required by state and federal law, a legislative priority of the program will be to request a budget appropriation of $6.1 million dollars and place a priority on reaching all children in out of home care.

With that group fully represented, eighty percent of children in the entire dependency court system will be represented by a guardian ad litem volunteer.

Another priority is the aforementioned "Keys to Independence Act" expected to be filed soon by Senator Nancy Detert and Representative Ben Albritton. More information about this proposed legislation can be found above and in the linked to WFSU News piece.

In addition, the program will also seek to modify the proviso language which governs attorneys ad litem for dependent children in nursing homes. The modification would allow excess funds to be used for other children who have legal needs such as guardianships for incapacitated children.

 

Lawmakers Expected To File First-Of-A-Kind Bill To Help Foster Kids Get Driver Licenses

As quoted in the article, Abramowitz says that "the bill will be filed soon by Senator Nancy Detert and Representative Ben Albritton." Detert and Albritton both sponsored last year's normalcy "Let Kids Be Kids" House Bill 215.

"This legislation, which you and many others have helped to shape, will create a pilot project to increase the number of youth in foster care who learn to drive and obtain drivers licenses," says Abramowitz. "Having a driver's license is a key to completing education and holding a job as an adult — currently most foster youth do not have that option."

Under the legislation, the Florida Department of Children and Families will be charged with writing an annual report on the effectiveness of the three-year pilot program. Youth must maintain a 2.2 grade point average to be eligible to participate and they, along with caregivers and not-for-profit agency providers, may seek reimbursement for certain costs like taking driver's education, driving tests and obtaining a license.

Funding for the first year of operation is being sought through a $1.5 million dollar appropriation and the program will run on a first-come, first-served basis as long as funds are available.

The bill dubbed the "Keys to Independence Act" also gives priority to foster youth enrolled in school-based driver education programs. Another provision allows youth ages sixteen and up to obtain a court order granting the ability to contract for automobile insurance under their own name after completing driver's education.

Update: On Tuesday, February 18, 2014, the "Keys to Independence Act" — now officially SB 744 "Motor Vehicle Insurance and Driver Education for Children in Care" — was heard by the Florida Senate's Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee. The bill passed the ten-member committee unanimously.

According to WFSU News, Senator Detert is now considering removing one of the bill's provisions "after some lawmakers raised concerns that foster kids would get preference when in enrolling in driver's ed courses."

 

Gaetz-Weatherford plan to protect the vulnerable

A key portion comes at the end of the article noting House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz said that "they intend to fully fund a maximum expansion of the Guardian ad Litem Program for minors, increase funding for child advocacy centers and to better address human trafficking crimes."

The commitment to "fully fund maximum current year expansion of the Guardian ad Litem Program" was part of the joint 2014 Work Plan Florida Agenda announced by Weatherford and Gaetz on Wednesday, January 29, 2014.

Update
2014-02-12: added legislative priorities section
2014-02-18: added update on SB 744 and initial committee passage
2014-02-20: updated presentation order and formatting for clarity

CAII Announces Cupcakes and Cookies for Kids Winners

Logo: CAII Cupcakes and Cookies for Kids

As recently highlighted, Child Advocates II, Inc. (CAII) held their CAII Cupcakes and Cookies for Kids fundraising event this past Saturday, February 8, 2014. By all accounts the event, which was the first of its kind for CAII, was a success.

Thanks to the funds raised by event ticket sales, contestant entry fees and sponsorships, CAII will be able to help in providing for the needs of abused and neglected children represented by our program.

According to event coordinator and CAII Board Member Kristine Lamont, forty to fifty people came to the event to sample the cupcakes and cookies provided by the contestants, amateur and professional bakers alike.

In addition, Lamont provided us with the names of those contestants whose entries were judged to be the best in their respective category. Judging was provided by Keith Baxter of Kool Beanz Café and Joey Gans of Au Peche Mignon. We have added a section to our event flyer with the winners.

Congratulations to the following winning contestants and thank you to everyone who participated!

  • Overall Winners by Contestant Level
  • Kristine Lamont Amateur
  • Tiniest Empire Cupcakes Professional
  • Katherine Grubbs Youth: High School
  • Claire Thaler Youth: Middle School
  • Keira Powell Youth: Elementary School
  • Amateur Cupcakes
  • Kelly Samek Valentine's Day
  • Wendell Crawford Filled
  • Kristine Lamont Twenty-One and Up
  • Margaret Robertson Celebrate Florida
  • Professional Cupcakes
  • Danisa Proctor Filled
  • Tiniest Empire Cupcakes Twenty-One and Up
  • Danisa Proctor Celebrate Florida
  • Youth Cupcakes
  • Katherine Grubbs High School: Valentine's Day
  • Claire Thaler Middle School: Valentine's Day
  • Keira Powell Elementary School: Be True to Your School
  • Cookies
  • John Marlow Amateur: Valentine's Day
  • Melanie Kalmanson Amateur: Kitchen Sink
  • Melanie Hierholzer Amateur: Celebrate Florida
  • Jacob and Addison Nester Elementary School: Celebrate Florida