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 December 2015 archive sorted chronologically with the newest at the top.

A Happy Holiday For All: Celebrating Another Successful Guardian ad Litem Holiday Gift Drive

A woman smiles at the 2015 Guardian ad Litem Holiday Gift Drive volunteer shopping and celebration event on Saturday, December 12, 2015 in Tallahassee, Florida
Photo: gal2.org

Thanks to the generous support of twenty-two sponsors and countless other individuals and businesses, the 2015 Guardian ad Litem Holiday Gift Drive was a great success.

Each year, program staff and volunteers along with Child Advocates II, Inc. (CAII), our non-profit support organization, work with local businesses, community organizations and individuals to ensure that every child represented by our program receives gifts for the holiday season.

The drive's success means that these children, many of whom are abused, neglected or abandoned, will be able to enjoy some sense of normalcy this holiday season.

On Saturday, December 12, 2015, CAII hosted the volunteer shopping and celebration event where volunteers could browse through and select from the donated items for the children in their cases.

"Child Advocates II did a great job coordinating the holiday drive shopping event," said Circuit Director Deborah Moore. "Over 145 advocates were greeted at the door with a cup of Starbucks coffee and a shopping helper to direct them to several rooms packed full with hundreds of toys."

The event was not limited to volunteers and staff, however.

"Many of our community supporters attended the event to share in the fun of shopping for just the right toy for our special guardian ad litem children," said Moore.

In addition to general donations, several supporting events were also held this year. The Fun Station Toy Drive, Jeff Cameron Show Bowling Tournament for CAII and Tallahassee Brew District Holiday Hop all provided invaluable contributions to the drive.

Thank you to everyone who participated in the gift drive and happy holidays!

You can browse photographs from the volunteer shopping and celebration event and Tallahassee Brew District Holiday Hop on our Flickr page.

In Print: How Guardian ad Litem Changed My Life

An article written by one of our guardian ad litem volunteers was recently published in the Tallahassee Democrat. The article is presented below in case you missed it.

How Guardian ad Litem changed my life
by Sarah Young

Tuesday, December 15, 2015
Tallahassee Democrat, My View

I grew up living inside of the Ronald McDonald Houses of Tampa Bay at All Children's Hospital, where my parents served as the on-site managers.

My mom set the example for who I wanted to become as an adult — someone who fights and advocates for children in times of need. That passion to advocate for children brought me to Guardian ad Litem, where I serve as one of 10,000+ volunteer voices for Florida's abused, abandoned and neglected children.

Guardian ad Litem began in Florida in 1980 as a means to advocate on behalf of Florida's most vulnerable children. As a GAL volunteer, I enter a child's life at what is most likely the worst time in that child's few short years. The child has been so abandoned, neglected or abused by the people who are supposed to love and protect them that the government has to step in.

The child may be removed from their caretakers or supports may be placed around the child and family so the family can eventually be reunified. Sometimes reunification is successful and sometimes it is not. But as a GAL volunteer, I am by that child's side, through the entire process. I am the only person involved in the case whose sole mission is to ensure the child's best interests are communicated to the court and to advocate just for that child.

A child with a GAL volunteer is more likely to find a safe, permanent home; is half as likely to re-enter foster care; will receive more services; spend less time in foster care; is less likely to be bounced from home to home; and will do better in school than those children without a GAL volunteer.

As a GAL, I get to see the inner workings of the Department of Children and Families and the judicial court system, unveiling the cloud of secrecy that so often surrounds child welfare issues. I'm given the opportunity to have a direct and lasting impact on children. In addition, I get to hold government accountable for our society's seemingly forgotten children.

But, for as much impact as I've had as a volunteer, the Guardian ad Litem program has impacted me far more. As a newly-minted faculty member at the Askew School of Public Administration and Policy at Florida State University, my professional life is forever altered.

I've become increasingly focused on how to use my new role to better the world for vulnerable children, working to create a nonprofit curriculum that will mold the next generation of government and community leaders.

The biggest impact is in my personal life. My husband and I saw that there are so many children in the dependency system who need good parents that we are now licensed adoptive parents, matched to a seven-year-old little boy.

Guardian ad Litem gave me a purpose, a professional focus, my future children, and most important, a way to utilize my passion to fight for children.

For information about Florida Guardian ad Litem, visit www.guardianadlitem.org.

Sarah Young teaches nonprofit management at Florida State University and conducts research on Florida's child welfare system.

New Continuing Education Event, Form and Document Library Update and Two New Community Supporters

New Event

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 added to our calendar.

Form and Document Library Update

The Form and Document Library on the Current Volunteers page was updated. Revised print versions of our Child Visitation Report eForm are published in PDF and Word format.

You can find and download these updated print documents under Essentials in the Forms and Documents section of the Form and Document Library.

New Community Supporters

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

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 Supporters page is updated to included the following additions, filed under Local Businesses and Civic Organizations, respectively.

Flying Bear Great American Grill

Logo: Flying Bear Great American Grill

Tallahassee Network of Young Professionals

Logo: Tallahassee Network of Young Professionals

We thank Flying Bear Great American Grill, Tallahassee Network of Young Professionals and all of our partners and supporters for their generous contributions to children in our community.

New Volunteer Training, Three Continuing Education Events, Library Update and New Community Supporter

New Events

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 added to our calendar.

Continuing Education

Two new library items were added to our Continuing Education resource center.

  • Serving and Protecting Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder
    A training video featuring Denise R. Barnes with the University of South Florida Center for Autism Related Disabilities and Shelton K. Gilyard Jr. with the Children's Board of Hillsborough County hosted by the Florida's Center for Child Welfare.
    filed under Disabilities, Mental Health, Video and Website

  • Vocational Rehabilitation Transition Youth Services: Preparing for the Future
    A training video featuring Carmen E. Dupoint with the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation and Kirk Hall with the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation hosted by the Florida's Center for Child Welfare at the University of South Florida.
    filed under Older Youth, Video and Website

New Community Supporter

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

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 organization was added to the Supporters page, filed under Civic Organizations.

Institute of Management Accountants
Florida State University Student Chapter

Logo: Institute of Management Accountants

We thank Institute of Management Accountants and all of our partners and supporters for their generous contributions to children in our community.

Watch: Dr. Phil McGraw Encourages Guardian ad Litem Volunteerism and Donations

On Thursday, November 19, 2015, Phil McGraw spoke about volunteering as a guardian ad litem on his television program Dr. Phil. McGraw and his wife Robin are the current official spokespeople for National Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA).

According to Statewide Guardian ad Litem Program Executive Director Alan Abramowitz, previous mentions of National CASA/guardian ad litem organizations by McGraw on his show have resulted in "increased enquiries regarding our program."

You can watch Dr. Phil Explains How You Can Become a CASA Volunteer and Help a Child in Need on YouTube. The clip has a runtime of one minute, twenty-two seconds.

Testimony and Update: Senate Weighs Best Interests of the Child In Adoptions

Before the Thanksgiving holiday, Statewide Guardian ad Litem Program Executive Director Alan Abramowitz wrote an update regarding an adoption bill, for which testimony was given to the Florida Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee. He also shared a related article that ran in newspapers across Florida.

You can read Abramowitz's message and the article, both of which are reproduced below.

Senate Bill 590 Testimony and Update
by Alan Abramowitz

Friday, November 20, 2015

Yesterday was an important day for Florida's abused, neglected and abandoned children and those that care for, advocate and love these children. The Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee heard public comment regarding Senate Bill 590 which is being sponsored by Senator Nancy Detert and championed by the Guardian ad Litem Program. The committee passed the bill unanimously. As you may know, the legislation makes a change to the statute governing adoption intervention. The bill allows judges to make decisions regarding adoption intervention using the child's best interest standard as defined in Chapter 39. One senator even queried whether the law could be made retroactive after hearing the stories where children's best interest where not considered.

From Judge Dawson to foster mothers and fathers; those who appeared gave emotional testimony about the negative effects adoption intervention can have on a child who has bonded with a foster family. Stories of children who were placed with their foster parents for three or more years, separated from their "momma and dada," leaving behind friends, extended family, pets, schools and stability to be placed with someone they do not know. The stories told at today's hearing exemplified how important "The Child's Best Hope Act" is and how deeply impacted families are by the inability for judges to consider a child's best interests when making life changing decisions.

You can listen to these moving stories on the Florida Channel [website].

The House bill has been filed by Representative Janet Adkins. The house bill has the same ultimate goals but addresses these issues as additional factors for judges to consider at the time of intervention, including the nature of the offense bringing the child into care, and includes a presumption that child not be moved if a child has been in a placement for an extended time. We appreciate Senator Detert and Representative Adkins for leading this effort for children.

Thank to those who traveled to Tallahassee to advocate for children. The article below written by Margie Menzel appeared in many Florida newspapers this morning.

Senate weighs 'best interests of the child' in adoptions
by Margie Menzel

Thursday, November 19, 2015
The News Service of Florida

Tallahassee — Backed by the sometimes-tearful testimony of foster parents, a state Senate panel Thursday approved a bill that would allow judges to place the best interests of children in adoption cases above the wishes of their biological parents.

The Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee unanimously passed a measure by Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, that she said would resolve a conflict between two laws dealing with children in dependency cases.

Currently, Detert said, a law requiring judges to rule based on "the best interests of the child" conflicts with a law that allows private adoption agencies to intervene in open adoption cases where parents' rights have not yet been terminated. In such cases, the adoption agency typically names the person that the biological parent prefers to adopt the child.

"This sounds like a good idea," Detert said. "But the current law also permits even a parent who has murdered a spouse, committed egregious acts against their children or who wishes to punish a foster parent that has provided a caring home for their child for a lengthy time to choose who their child should be placed with — without requiring the court to consider what is in the best interest of the child, as it would for any other dependency case."

The bill would create an exception to the part of current law that allows agencies and parents to influence who adopts children. The exception would apply in cases where petitions to terminate parents' rights have been filed and qualified adoptive parents have been identified.

The measure drew widespread support from foster parents and children's advocacy groups.

"Virtually all of the judges who are experienced dependency judges have indicated that this has become a serious problem in our courtrooms," said Judge Daniel Dawson, who handles juvenile cases in the Ninth Judicial Circuit, which includes Orange and Osceola counties.

Dawson said that in every such case he has encountered, "there has been spite on behalf of the parent wanting to remove the child from a relative or a foster parent," or in some cases, parents arranged for a person to adopt a child "that they knew was going to return the child to their custody."

The judge also said he has never seen such an intervention early in a dependency proceeding, when the child is typically placed in a foster home. Rather, he said, motions to intervene come when biological parents are about to lose their parental rights, even if a child has been in a stable foster home for years.

Several foster parents who had lost custody of children urged lawmakers to pass the bill.

Amy Wragg, from the Palm Beach County community of Tequesta, described the son she'd fostered for a year, from the day she picked him up at a neonatal intensive care unit where he'd been for two months, "going through drug withdrawal because of what his mother had done to him."

At that point, Wragg said, the biological mother was happy for the baby to be with her family. He'd bonded with Wragg, her husband and their four other children. "He called us mama and dadda," she said.

But the judge made his ruling based on the law allowing the biological mother to intervene. Wragg and her family were given ten days for the transition, which the baby could not begin to understand.

"He started banging his head on things," she said. "He stopped laughing. These are not children without feelings, just because they cannot verbally express what their desires are."

The current law, she said, allows parents to re-traumatize their children "on a whim."

Allen Walker, who with his wife Eve has been a South Florida foster parent for eight years, described losing a foster son the same way. The boy didn't get to say goodbye to his friends or his extended family when he was forced to leave, Walker said.

"What we've been trying to do as foster parents is heal them from the initial trauma of coming into care, because they lose everything," he said. "No matter what their home life is like, they're losing their families, their friends, their schools, their pets, their toys."

After four years with his family, Walker said, the boy had been healing, and then was placed with someone who'd shown no interest before.

Other speakers noted that the current laws allow biological parents with severe mental illness or substance abuse issues to make adoption decisions rather than judges.

"We want to protect parents' rights," Detert said. "But the Legislature and the courts and most of the people in the audience, our main focus is the protection of the children in the state of Florida and what's best for them, because they don't have anybody other than us."

The Senate bill faces two more committees. The House companion bill, sponsored by Representative Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, has not been heard.