On Wednesday, March 16, 2016, over thirty-five guardian ad litem volunteers and staff — almost standing room only — attended a continuing education session called Court Testimony Training with Leon County Judge J. Layne Smith, our guest presenter.
Judge Smith shared information about the court testimony process and criteria. Staff and volunteers were informed about what to expect in court as a witness, how to prepare for court testimony and understand from a judge's perspective how witnesses are evaluated.
Many volunteers had positive feedback about the training and suggested we have a follow-up training!
Thank you to Judge Smith for conducting such a great continuing education event.
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.
On August 28, 2013, the Statewide Guardian ad Litem Office held the annual GAL awards ceremony and reception in Orlando, Florida.
Omega Wynn, District Manager for Starbucks, was recognized for his many years of support for our program. Omega has been a member of Child Advocates II — our local non-profit organization — for several years and has served as a guardian ad litem volunteer for the past year.
We were all thrilled when our very own guardian ad litem, Jan Watford, received the statewide "Most Valuable Advocate of the Year" award! Executive Director Alan Abramowitz presented Jan with a plaque signed by Governor Rick Scott and himself.
A guardian ad litem volunteer in our local program for six and a half years, Jan has always impressed us all with her never ending commitment to make things better for children and her sincere concern for every one of the children she represents. The award is well deserved and we are so glad Jan is part of our team!
Many volunteers were also recognized for twenty years or more of service with the Guardian ad Litem Program including our very own Marti Chumbler! Last June, Marti reached her twentieth year with our local program.
Congratulations Jan, Omega and Marti!
This month, our state office released the Florida Guardian ad Litem Program Standards. The new standards are now posted on our website at https://gal2.org/forms.
Our thanks to Dorothy "Dot" Binger, our local program Volunteer Advisory Committee chair and second circuit volunteer representative on the Statewide Director of Volunteer Advisory Committee (DVAC). Dot and the DVAC members were part of the collaborative effort to create the standards by completing the final review and providing feedback to our Executive Director Alan Abramowitz.
Standard 1, "The Role of the Guardian ad Litem", reminds us that if a guardian ad litem encounters "barriers in gaining access to an assigned child, the circuit office should be notified immediately." Difficulty gaining access to a child is a safety "red flag" and we must respond with a sense of urgency. We will immediately notify and work with the Department of Children and Families, the community-based care agency and the dependency court to resolve the issue of denied access.
Standard 1 also emphasizes the impact our volunteers make when, in addition to supporting a child as an advocate, a guardian ad litem volunteer becomes a mentor for the child. Our Independent Living Advisory Committee is planning the next mentoring training session Monday, September 23 and Thursday, September 26. We hope you will join us!
Standard 7, "Transportation of Children" provides information about the provision allowing volunteers to transport children represented by the program. Currently, seventy volunteers in our circuit have been approved and are benefiting from enhanced communication with the children and promoting social and extracurricular activities. If you are interested in gaining approval to transport your assigned guardian ad litem child, please contact your child advocacy coordinator.
The standards is an excellent document to empower our staff and volunteers to achieve a high level of success for our program and the children we serve. Please contact me at deborah.mooregal.fl.gov or at (850) 606-1218 if you have any questions about the standards. If you would a copy of the standards mailed to you, please contact Laurie Williams at (850) 606-1212. Thank you.