In Print: Two Articles In The Tallahassee Democrat

The Guardian ad Litem program's pinwheel garden shines in honor of Child Abuse Prevention month. Pinwheels represent a happy and safe childhood, things the Guardian ad Litem volunteers advocate for every day.
Photo: Sara Blumenthal

On Monday, April 18, 2016, two articles featuring our program appeared in the Tallahassee Democrat.

The articles provide information on how volunteer guardians ad litem support local children and the recent statewide success in recruiting 10,000 volunteers to the program.

Both of the articles are presented below in case you missed them. Thank you to the Tallahassee Democrat for sharing our program with their readers.

GAL volunteers stand up for children
by Sara Blumenthal

Monday, April 18, 2016
Tallahassee Democrat
TLH Section

Each day, parents go above and beyond for their children. Every day Guardian ad Litem volunteers go above and beyond for their children as well.

"I think the most powerful thing we can do is ensure every child has someone who will be there no matter what. Every child should know and feel that they matter," says Krista Killius, a local GAL volunteer child advocate.

Killius, who has been with the GAL program for five years, spends hours copying a book page by page so she can bring it to the GAL youth she is assigned to. The book is a collection of letters from reformed inmates. She gives it to her youth, who has made some poor choices, so he can have hope for a better future.

"He doesn't have family and didn't feel he had choices. I see him every week and send him a letter. It is powerful for him to see that someone sees him as a valuable part of society and values him as a person. It is meaningful for both of us," says Killius.

Killius is one of the more than 300 local and 10,000 statewide GAL volunteer child advocates. Every day she and her fellow volunteers advocate in the community and the courtroom for abused and neglected children.

"It's about being a voice for those who need it the most," says 2nd Judicial Circuit GAL program circuit director Deborah Moore. "Our volunteers ensure our children's interests are heard and their needs are met."

Like all volunteers, GAL volunteers are people who have the need to better their community. GAL volunteers focus on one of the community's most valuable and vulnerable resource, its children. According to national statistics, an alleged incident of child abuse is reported every 34.9 seconds. In Florida, over 30,000 children are currently in the child welfare system.

April is National Child Abuse Prevention month. All around town, pinwheel gardens are sparkling in the sun to represent what every child deserves — a safe and happy childhood. April is also National Volunteer Appreciation month, which Moore says is a fitting concurrence for the GAL program, which recently surpassed its goal of 10,000 volunteers statewide.

"Our volunteers make a difference by joining with us every day advocating for children who suffered abuse and neglect," says Moore. "We are committed to making their lives better."

GAL volunteers speak up in the courtroom, working to ensure the child has a permanent safe home. They work to make sure the child's educational needs are met and the child has the opportunities to participate in normal activities.

Though GAL volunteers realize the difference they make (a child with a GAL volunteer is half as likely to cycle back into the system and twice as likely to find a forever home), they do not see themselves as extraordinary.

"I don't do anything special. I am just there for my child," says Kathleen Cole, a GAL volunteer who travels regularly to visit her youth who resides in St. Augustine.

Providing that consistent person for the child is a vital part of the GAL program's mission. Having someone they can depend on is something some of the children in care have never had.

"Our kids have someone who cares about them, someone they can trust and depend on, someone they know will fight for them," says Moore. "That makes all the difference."

Betsy Purdum, another GAL volunteer, was there for her youth from the beginning to the end. She made sure that through the process within the child welfare system, the child always had someone in his corner fighting for a permanent safe home, no matter what road blocks occurred.

"We prevailed. He found a family," says Purdum. "He is nurtured and loved, which is what every child deserves."

The results of having someone there are seen every day by the program. It is the child who never thought they would have a real family now calling someone mom. It the child who never had a person encouraging and pushing them now graduating from college. It is the child who never expected much of themselves now having hope and a goal. It is the child who didn't have a parent present now having one after their parent dealt with their addiction.

"Sometimes it's about not giving up. You wouldn't give up on your own child and we shouldn't give up on these children," said GAL volunteer Pat Dallet. The youth who he and his wife Jane are assigned to became homeless after aging out of the child welfare system. They helped him get his life back on track, even helping him get into cosmetology school and buying him his first barber set.

Moore says there are many more children to help. She hopes when people think about volunteering they will think about becoming a child advocate.

"To me, there isn't anything more rewarding then to have the privilege of being that one person to change a child's life," says Moore.

To learn more about the GAL Program or how you can help, please visit www.gal2.org or call 606-1213.

Florida leads nation with GAL volunteers
Special to the Democrat

Monday, April 18, 2016
Tallahassee Democrat
TLH Section

This month, more than 30 community volunteers will participate in the region's 2nd Circuit's Guardian ad Litem (GAL) Program training to serve as an abused or neglected child's voice and advocate. These new volunteers will then take an oath before a judge to stand up for a child's best interest and join over 300 Guardian ad Litem advocates serving the Big Bend.

Alan Abramowitz, Florida Guardian ad Litem Executive Director, reports the state's GAL Program has exceeded its goal of 10,000 volunteers who advocate for abused, neglected and abandoned children in Florida's dependency courts. Abramowitz made the announcement in recapping the agency's success during the recently adjourned Florida Legislative Session. Although most states have a GAL Program of some kind, Florida's success in recruiting volunteers sets the record for the nation.

Chester W. Spellman, Volunteer Florida CEO stated that "Volunteer Florida applauds Guardian ad Litem's achievement of engaging 10,000 volunteers! Guardian ad Litem continues to successfully leverage the human capital of volunteers to serve Florida's most vulnerable children. We are proud to support their efforts and value our statewide partnership."

Alan Abramowitz reported that a count of total volunteers at the end of February 2016, reveals that 10,056 Florida GAL citizen volunteers are trained and certified to work with children who are removed from their parents due to safety concerns. Most volunteers represent two or more abused children, visiting them at least once a month, and advising child welfare judges on options for assuring the child's best interests.

Our dedicated volunteers are the heart and soul of the GAL Program," Abramowitz explained. "They speak for vulnerable, innocent children and hold government and private sector agencies accountable for their safety, security and best interests. Our volunteers receive nothing in return but the knowledge that they are making a difference in the lives of children."

Abramowitz explained that anyone age 18 or older can become a volunteer, simply by participating in a local training course and meeting other qualifications.

The local program is able to be the voice for over 96 percent of local youth currently in the child welfare system. Deborah Moore, 2nd Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program Director attributes that level of representation to the continued support of the community and its lawmakers.

"We are thankful for our partners in the Legislature including Florida House Representatives Alan Williams, Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, Halsey Beshears and State Senator Bill Montford. They are effective advocates for our program and the children we serve. We are grateful for their support," said Moore.

Even with GAL's successes to date, there are thousands of children who still need a voice.

To learn more about the Guardian ad Litem Program in our region or to become a volunteer visit www.gal2.org or call 850-606-1213.

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