Frequently Asked Questions

A little boy smiling at the camera

Whether you are a potential volunteer or simply want to learn more about our program, history and guardians ad litem — also called court appointed special advocates — these frequently asked questions are here to help.

The questions and answers are grouped into categories addressing volunteer guardians ad litem, pro bono attorney volunteers and the Florida Guardian ad Litem Program.

Should you have a question not answered here or would like to talk to a staff member, please feel free to contact us.

The FAQs were last updated on Saturday, April 23, 2016.

  1. Volunteer Guardian ad Litem
  2. What is a guardian ad litem?
  3. What is the role of a guardian ad litem?
  4. What are the duties and responsibilities of a guardian ad litem?
  5. What are the best interests of the child?
  6. What types of cases require a guardian ad litem?
  7. What are the qualifications to be a guardian ad litem?
  8. Do volunteer guardians ad litem need to be attorneys?
  9. How much time must volunteer guardians ad litem commit?
  10. Can state employees receive paid leave volunteering as a guardian ad litem?
  11. How do people apply to become a volunteer guardian ad litem?
  12. Pro Bono Attorney Volunteer
  13. What support do pro bono attorney guardians ad litem receive?
  14. How much time must pro bono attorney guardians ad litem commit?
  15. What are the duties and responsibilities of a pro bono attorney guardian ad litem?
  16. Are there any differences in client representation as a guardian ad litem?
  17. Do pro bono attorney guardians ad litem need to have malpractice insurance?
  18. Guardian ad Litem Program
  19. What is the history of the Florida Guardian ad Litem Program?
  20. What is the Guardian ad Litem Program leadership structure?
  21. How can local businesses and community groups support guardians ad litem?
  22. How many children does the Florida Guardian ad Litem Program represent?
  23. How many people volunteer for the Florida Guardian ad Litem Program?
  24. How much money does the state save by utilizing volunteer guardians ad litem?
  25. Does the Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program have any committees?
  26. Are there jobs available with the Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program?
  27. What counties does the Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program serve?
  1. What is a guardian ad litem? Up to Table of Contents

    A guardian ad litem is a court-appointed volunteer who protects the rights of and advocates for the best interests of a child involved in a court proceeding, frequently as a result of alleged abuse or neglect. Participating in all stages of a case, the guardian ad litem makes independent recommendations to the court and focuses on the unique needs of the child they represent. The specific roles, responsibilities and duties performed by a guardian ad litem will vary based on the type and particulars of a case.

    Florida law defines guardian ad litem as the person "who is appointed by the court to represent the best interests of a child in a proceeding as provided for by law … who is a party to any judicial proceeding as a representative of the child, and who serves until discharged by the court."[1]

    The Latin phrase ad litem means "appointed to act in a lawsuit on behalf of a child or other person who is not considered capable of representing themselves."[2] It translates to "for the suit"[3] in English.

    [1] § 39.820(1), Florida Statutes (2011).
    [2] Oxford Dictionary of English, 3rd Edition (2010).
    [3] Black's Law Dictionary, 2nd Edition (St. Paul, Minnesota: West Publishing, 1910).
  1. What is the role of a guardian ad litem? Up to Table of Contents

    The role of a guardian ad litem is to represent the best interests of a child in court proceedings. The roles of a guardian ad litem will vary based on the type and particulars of a case.

    The volunteer's role in a court proceeding is unique as the only party mandated to advocate solely for the child's best interests. It is truly a team effort though, as volunteers work closely with case coordinators while program attorneys provide legal consultation and advice.

    Generally, the appointed guardian ad litem performs the following roles.

    • Investigator
    • conducts an objective and systematic examination of the situation including relevant history, family environment, relationships and the needs of the child
    • interviews family members, caregivers, service providers and school faculty

    • Facilitator
    • identifies resources and services for the child
    • facilitates a collaborative relationship among all parties to the case
    • helps create a situation in which the child's needs are met

    • Advocate
    • represents the child's voice in court proceedings
    • makes independent recommendations in the best interests of the child
    • provides a unique and valued perspective to the judge

    • Supervisor
    • monitors the status and progression of court orders and services, as well as the plans of the Florida Department of Children and Families or the child's community-based care provider
  1. What are the duties and responsibilities of a guardian ad litem? Up to Table of Contents

    The principal responsibility of a guardian ad litem is to ensure the best interests of a child are represented in court proceedings. The duties and responsibilities of a guardian ad litem will vary based on the type and particulars of a case. In all cases, you are the child's number one advocate and resource.

    Generally, the appointed guardian ad litem has the following duties and responsibilities.

    • visits the child, keeping them informed about the court proceedings
    • gathers, reviews and assesses records and independent information on a consistent basis in order to recommend a resolution in the child's best interests
    • interviews parties such as the child, family members, caregivers, service providers and school faculty
    • determines whether a permanent plan has been created for the child in accordance with federal and state laws
    • determines whether appropriate services are being provided to the child and family
    • submits to the court a signed recommendations report detailing what placement, visitation plan, services and permanent plan are in the child's best interests
    • attends and participates in court hearings and related meetings to advocate for a permanent plan in the child's best interests
    • maintains a complete record about the case including appointments scheduled, interviews held and information gathered about the child and the child's life circumstances

    During the course of a termination of parental rights proceeding, not including voluntary relinquishment of parental rights proceedings,[1] the appointed guardian ad litem has the following additional duties and responsibilities.

    • investigates the allegations of the petition and any subsequent matters arising in the case and files a written report including a statement of the child's wishes and the recommendations of the guardian ad litem[2]
    • attends all court hearings unless excused by the court[3]
    • represents the child's best interests until the jurisdiction of the court over the child terminates or until excused by the court[4]
    • is entitled to receive service of pleadings and papers[5] [6]
    • performs such other duties as are consistent with the scope of the appointment[7]

    In the case of non-attorney guardians ad litem, duties and responsibilities shall not include the practice of law.[8]

    Additional details are available in the official volunteer advocate position description.

    [1] § 39.807(2)(e), [2] § 39.807(2)(b)(1), [3] § 39.807(2)(b)(2), [4] § 39.807(2)(b)(3),
    [5] § 39.807(2)(d), Florida Statutes (2011).
    [6] Rule 8.215(e), [7] Rule 8.215(c)(4), [8] Rule 8.215(f), Florida Rules of Juvenile Procedure (2009).
  1. What are the best interests of the child? Up to Table of Contents

    Juvenile court judges use the best interest of the child standard when making their decisions in child abuse and neglect cases.

    Although there is no established legal definition for this standard, it "generally refers to the deliberation that courts undertake when deciding what type of services, actions and orders will best serve a child as well as who is best suited to take care of a child."[1]

    Physical safety, emotional well-being, permanent placement in a stable and nurturing home environment that fosters the child's healthy growth and development are all factors to be considered by the guardian ad litem.

    Florida law includes a non-exhaustive list of potentially relevant factors that "the court shall consider and evaluate ... for the purpose of determining the manifest best interests of the child."[2]

    • any suitable permanent custody arrangement with a relative of the child[3]
    • the ability and disposition of the parent or parents to provide the child with food, clothing, medical care or other remedial care, and the other material needs of the child[4]
    • the capacity of the parent or parents to care for the child to the extent that the child's safety, well-being, and physical, mental and emotional health will not be endangered upon the child's return home[5]
    • the present mental and physical health needs of the child and such future needs of the child to the extent that such future needs can be ascertained based on the present condition of the child[6]
    • the love, affection, and other emotional ties existing between the child and the child's parent or parents, siblings and other relatives, and the degree of harm to the child that would arise from the termination of parental rights and duties[7]
    • the likelihood of an older child remaining in long-term foster care upon termination of parental rights due to emotional or behavioral problems or any special needs of the child[8]
    • the child's ability to form a significant relationship with a parental substitute and the likelihood that the child will enter into a more stable and permanent family relationship as a result of permanent termination of parental rights and duties[9]
    • the length of time that the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment and the desirability of maintaining continuity[10]
    • the depth of the relationship existing between the child and the present custodian[11]
    • the reasonable preferences and wishes of the child, if the court deems the child to be of sufficient intelligence, understanding and experience to express a preference[12]
    • the recommendations for the child provided by the child's guardian ad litem or legal representative[13]
    • the availability of a non-adoptive relative placement may not receive greater consideration than any other factor weighing on the manifest best interests of the child[14]
       
    [1] Determining the Best Interests of the Child: Summary of State Laws, Child Welfare Information Gateway, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2010).
    [2] § 39.810, [3] § 39.810(1), [4] § 39.810(2), [5] § 39.810(3), [6] § 39.810(4), [7] § 39.810(5), [8] § 39.810(6),
    [9] § 39.810(7), [10] § 39.810(8), [11] § 39.810(9), [12] § 39.810(10), [13] § 39.810(11),
    [14] § 39.810(1), Florida Statutes (2011).
  1. What types of cases require a guardian ad litem? Up to Table of Contents

    Guardians ad litem are required in cases where the child is under the supervision of the Florida Department of Children and Families and involved in court proceedings. They are also appointed by the court to represent the child in any civil (or criminal if appointed by the circuit court)[1] judicial proceeding involving alleged abuse, abandonment or neglect.[2]

    [1] Statewide Guardian ad Litem Office v. Office of the State Attorney Twentieth Judicial Circuit, 55 So.3d 747 (Florida 2d DCA 2011) No. 2D10-3642.
    [2] § 39.822(1), Florida Statutes (2009).
  1. What are the qualifications to be a guardian ad litem? Up to Table of Contents

    To become a guardian ad litem, you must be at least twenty-one years old, pass a criminal background and complete the thirty-hour pre-service training program. Young adults nineteen or twenty years old may become certified and are allowed to work under the guidance of and in partnership with a guardian ad litem twenty-one or above.[1]

    Effective guardians ad litem are generally empathetic, caring people who are concerned for the well-being of children and have an inextinguishable commitment to the child's best interests until such time as a safe and permanent home is secured. Ideal candidates are objective, nonjudgmental and able to interact with people of various ethnic, economic and educational backgrounds without prejudice.

    Florida law stipulates the particulars of the security background investigation, which must at least include "employment history checks, checks of references, local criminal records checks through local law enforcement agencies and statewide criminal records checks through the [Florida] Department of Law Enforcement." A federal criminal records check of the applicant through the Federal Bureau of Investigation may also be conducted. "The information collected pursuant to the security background investigation is confidential and exempt" from the public records laws of § 119.07(1), Florida Statutes.[2]

    The analysis and evaluation of the security background investigation "must give particular emphasis to past activities involving children, including but not limited to, child-related criminal offenses or child abuse." Any person that has been convicted of (regardless of adjudication) or entered a plea of nolo contendere or guilty to any offense prohibited under the provisions of § 435.04(2), Florida Statutes or under any similar law in another jurisdiction cannot be certified as a guardian ad litem. The Guardian ad Litem Program "has the sole discretion in determining whether to certify a person based on his or her security background investigation."[3]

    Guardians ad litem certified prior to October 1, 1995, attorneys who are members in good standing of The Florida Bar and licensed professionals who have undergone a comparable review as a condition of licensure within five years of applying for certification as a guardian ad litem are exempt from the security background investigation provision.[4]

    [1] § 39.821, [2] [3] § 39.821(1), [4] § 39.821(2), Florida Statutes (2011).
  1. Do volunteer guardians ad litem need to be attorneys? Up to Table of Contents

    No, guardians ad litem do not need to be attorneys. Notwithstanding the statutory qualifications, any person with sound practical judgment, compassion and a dedication to children can be a guardian ad litem.

    Attorneys that are interested in volunteering can find answers to their frequently asked questions on the Pro Bono Attorneys page.

  1. How much time must volunteer guardians ad litem commit? Up to Table of Contents

    Applicants must first successfully complete a three phase pre-service training in order to become certified as a guardian ad litem. Once certified, guardians ad litem must complete twelve hours of continuing education training annually. Guardians ad litem spend an average of eight to ten hours per month working on a case.

  1. Can state employees receive paid leave volunteering as a guardian ad litem? Up to Table of Contents

    Yes, state employees may participate in the Governor's Mentoring Initiative[1] and receive one hour of administrative leave per week, up to five hours per month.[2] For additional details on the program and state agency contacts, visit the Florida Mentoring Partnership's State Agency Mentoring site.

    [1] Executive Order 99-212, Executive Office of the Governor (Tallahassee, Florida: EOG, 1999).
    [2] Interpretation of the Administrative Rule, Executive Office of the Governor (Tallahassee, Florida: EOG, 1999).
  1. How do people apply to become a volunteer guardian ad litem? Up to Table of Contents

    People can begin the application process one of two ways: by completing a Volunteer Application eForm or submitting a paper application packet. Read the Apply to Volunteer section of the Prospective Volunteers page for complete details and a timeline of the application process.

    Attorneys should instead complete the pro bono attorney application.

    If you reside outside of the Second Judicial Circuit, browse the local programs list to find your area guardian ad litem office.

  1. What support do pro bono attorney guardians ad litem receive? Up to Table of Contents

    As part of the guardian ad litem team, volunteer attorneys will receive support from staff case coordinators, program attorneys, program staff and the resources of the Statewide Guardian ad Litem Office.

    The case coordinator will work with you to develop recommendations, assist you in preparing reports to the court, provide information on community resources and advise you regarding the program's policies and procedures. The program attorney will be available to provide you with any legal guidance needed and will represent you at evidentiary hearings.

    The Statewide Guardian ad Litem Office also maintains a number of useful resources on their website that we encourage you to utilize.

  1. How much time must pro bono attorney guardians ad litem commit? Up to Table of Contents

    While cases will vary in complexity, pro bono attorney guardians ad litem spend an average of four to six hours per month working on a case; additional time may be required for new volunteers. All time spent working on guardian ad litem cases may be reported to fulfill the Florida Bar's pro bono public service requirement (Rule 4-6.1).

  1. What are the duties and responsibilities of a pro bono attorney guardian ad litem? Up to Table of Contents

    The primary duties and responsibilities of pro bono attorney guardians ad litem are the same as those of non-attorney volunteers. Please refer to answer three on the main Frequently Asked Questions page for additional information.

  1. Are there any differences in client representation as a guardian ad litem? Up to Table of Contents

    There are two chief differences in how an attorney represents a child as a guardian ad litem versus how they would represent other clients. Attorneys do not owe a duty of confidentiality to the child and attorneys advocate for what they believe is in the child's best interests as opposed to what the child wants. Otherwise, attorneys are duty-bound to comply with the rules and regulations of the Florida Bar.

  1. Do pro bono attorney guardians ad litem need to have malpractice insurance? Up to Table of Contents

    No, pro bono attorneys are covered by the state for malpractice under the Florida Volunteer Protection Act, § 768.1355, Florida Statutes. To be covered under the statute, pro bono attorneys must act in good faith as an ordinary, reasonably prudent person would and as such, an attorney's wanton or willful misconduct are not protected.

  1. What is the history of the Florida Guardian ad Litem Program? Up to Table of Contents

    Following the passage of the 1974 Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act and with active support from child advocates, the Florida Legislature passed a law in 1975 authorizing, but not requiring, courts to appoint a guardian ad litem in cases alleging child abuse. Later in the decade, the law was changed to require courts to appoint guardians ad litem in all child abuse and neglect proceedings.

    As local agencies attempted to meet this need, three early volunteer models were implemented in Jacksonville (1979), Gainesville (1980) and Miami (1981). Due to the success of these trials, the Florida Legislature was successfully lobbied in 1980 to provide funds for the development and evaluation of a lay volunteer guardian ad litem pilot. In taking this action, Florida became the first state to use general revenue funds to develop such a program.

    By the end of the first year, the ten participating judicial circuits (including our program) had trained 407 volunteers and represented 1,026 children. After the 1981 independent evaluation of the pilot concluded that "the volunteer model was likely to be the most feasible, the least expensive and the most effective means of providing representation to abused and neglected children," additional funding was provided to expand the program into the remaining judicial circuits.

    The program was fully established statewide by January 1990. As the program continued to grow and evolve while successfully meeting its mission, public support and involvement as well as bi-partisan political backing increased. Program attorneys and staff advocates were added during the 1990s to provide support to volunteers and staff. Governor Lawton Chiles vowed in October 1991 to keep the program fully funded despite budget cuts.

    The non-profit Florida Guardian ad Litem Association was founded in 2001 to promote the development, expansion and improvement of the statewide programs. Additional not-for-profit organizations, such as our own Child Advocates II, Inc., were also created to support nearly all of the twenty-one local programs.

    The Blue Ribbon Panel on Child Protection established by Governor Jeb Bush in May 2002 concluded that "if there is any program that costs the least and benefits the most, this one is it." They also found the program to be "an indispensable intermediary between the child and the court, between the child and DCF."

    The panel's conclusions paved the way for legislation (HB 439) transferring the program from the state court system to the Justice Administrative Commission, establishing the Statewide Guardian ad Litem Office and calling for the appointment of a full-time executive director. The bill was signed into law in July 2003, effective as of January 1, 2004. The first appointed executive director was Angela Orkin.

    1. 25th Anniversary Project Report, Florida Guardian ad Litem Program (Tallahassee, Florida: GALP, 2005).
  1. What is the Guardian ad Litem Program leadership structure? Up to Table of Contents

    For details about the leadership of the Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program and statewide office, see the Leadership page.

  1. How can local businesses and community groups support guardians ad litem? Up to Table of Contents

    Learn more about the becoming a CAII Partner and contact us to discuss how your local business, community group, organization or corporation can support the Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program.

  1. How many children does the Florida Guardian ad Litem Program represent? Up to Table of Contents

    As of January 2016, the Florida Guardian ad Litem Program represented 71.27% of the 31,563 abused, abandoned, and neglected children in the dependency system statewide.[1]

    The Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program represented 95.13% of the 380 children in the Big Bend region as of January 2016.[1]

    [1] Representation Report, Florida Guardian ad Litem Program (Tallahassee, Florida: GALP, January 2016).
  1. How many people volunteer for the Florida Guardian ad Litem Program? Up to Table of Contents

    The Florida Guardian ad Litem Program met its goal of 10,000 volunteers statewide in February 2015.[1] There are 10,991 volunteers statewide as of January 2016.[2]

    The Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program had 326 volunteers in the Big Bend region as of January 2016.[2]

    [1] 2015 Annual Report, Florida Guardian ad Litem Program (Tallahassee, Florida: GALP, 2015).
    [2] Representation Report, Florida Guardian ad Litem Program (Tallahassee, Florida: GALP, January 2016).
  1. How much money does the state save by utilizing volunteer guardians ad litem? Up to Table of Contents

    On average, a volunteer stays with the program for thirty-two months. Over that period, the state receives $4,076 in goods and services from each volunteer. Statewide, more than $40 million is contributed by the more than 10,000 volunteers and local foundations that support the program.[1]

    In 2010, the Florida Guardian ad Litem Program Office calculated that volunteer guardians ad litem saved the state $707,371.90 in October 2009. This figure was based on data collected during a survey of 59% of program volunteers.[2]

    From this survey, two key values were recognized. The results showed that in October 2009, the survey sample of volunteers spent an average of 10.1 hours working on and 87.13 miles driving for a case. Collectively, the volunteers worked 32,747.84 hours and drove 281,158.07 miles.

    The product of the estimated per hour dollar value of a volunteers time—$17.78[3] as approximated by Independent Sector[4]—and the total number of volunteer hours worked is $582,256.60. The product of the normal state employee mileage reimbursement—$0.445 per mile—and the total number of volunteer miles driven is $125,115.30. The sum of these two terms is $707,371.90 in calculated savings for October 2009.

    It is important to note, of course, that volunteers need the support of guardian ad litem program staff to effectively advocate for the child's best interests. Savings can only be truly realized with the continued close collaboration of program staff, volunteer guardians ad litem and other volunteers.

    In March 2012, the Florida Guardian ad Litem Program received a Davis Productivity Award for "Streamlining Efficiencies to Focus on Commitment to Children." The cost savings realized by the state and taxpayers was one of the key reasons cited for the award.

    [1] 2015 Annual Report p. 21, Florida Guardian ad Litem Program (Tallahassee, Florida: GALP, 2015).
    [2] 2010 Annual Report p. 5, Florida Guardian ad Litem Program (Tallahassee, Florida: GALP, 2010).
    [3] Value of Volunteer Time, Independent Sector (2007).
    [4] a leadership forum for charities and foundations recognized by the U.S. Department of Labor
  1. Does the Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program have any committees? Up to Table of Contents

    Yes, the program has two primary committees each focusing on a different area. Additional committees are formed as needed to organize and coordinate CAII events such as Cupcakes and Cookies for Kids and the annual holiday drive.

    Volunteer Advocacy Committee
    The Volunteer Advocacy Committee supports our volunteer guardians ad litem by implementing and reviewing training courses, hosting workshops and recommending ways to improve communication, efficiency and volunteer retention.

    Volunteer Recruitment Committee
    The Volunteer Recruitment Committee plans and executes events to introduce the public to our program, discuss the rewards of becoming a guardian ad litem and help people apply to volunteer.

    Events include the community outreach and education day held on the first Saturday of every month (see Recruitment) and the annual volunteer reception (see Special Events).

  1. Are there jobs available with the Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program? Up to Table of Contents

    Job vacancies for the Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program are posted on People First, the state's human resource and career information center. Use the People First Vacancy Search and enter the keyword "guardian" to display only those employment opportunities within the Florida Guardian ad Litem Program.

    Follow the instructions in the vacancy's details to submit an application. For more information on state government jobs in Florida, visit the Department of Management Services.

  1. What counties does the Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program serve? Up to Table of Contents

    The Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program serves Franklin, Gadsden, Jefferson, Leon, Liberty and Wakulla counties in Florida's Big Bend region.