This page contains all published In Print blog posts — containing newspaper articles, news stories and other media about us — sorted chronologically with the newest at the top.

In Print: GAL Appreciation Day in Tallahassee Woman Magazine

On Saturday, June 15, 2013, a photographer with Tallahassee Woman magazine came to our Guardian ad Litem Appreciation Day event to highlight it for their readers. Those images are now available in the latest issue of Tallahassee Woman in the "Around Town" section.

Hosted by CAII and our program, GAL Appreciation Day provides an annual opportunity for the local guardian ad litem community to get together with their families to socialize, have fun and recognize the exemplary work of our volunteers, community supporters and staff.

You can read the August/September 2013 issue of Tallahassee Woman online or pick up a copy around town. Guardian ad Litem Appreciation Day is featured on Page 56, an image of which is presented below.

You can also read our event report and browse our photo set from the day's festivities.

Thank you to Tallahassee Woman magazine for featuring our program and our wonderful volunteers with their readers!

Page 56 of Tallahassee Woman mazagine, August/September 2013

In Print: Jan Watford Named Newest "Face of CASA"

On Tuesday, July 30, 2013, one of our volunteer guardians ad litem received another recognition of her outstanding service to children.

Janet "Jan" Watford was revealed today to be latest "Face of CASA" in the National Court Appointed Special Advocates Association's nationwide recognition campaign.

National CASA's "35 Faces of CASA for Children" acknowledges outstanding individuals and programs honored for their dedication and service to children. Watford's story is the twenty-seventh to be featured by National CASA, telling "stories of the people who are making life better for abused and neglected children."

Back in April 2013, Watford was recognized by the Tallahassee Democrat as their Volunteer of the Year. As a result, she represented herself and our program in June 2013 at the Jefferson Awards for Public Service gala in Washington, D.C., where she again won for her work. Later that month, she was named Volunteer of the Year by the Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program.

You can read Watford's story and the others on the National CASA website. Watford's story is also reproduced below.

Jan Watford: Jefferson Award-Winning CASA Volunteer
by National CASA Association
Tuesday, July 30, 2013
35 Faces of CASA for Children

Jan Watford has cradled newborns who are in the throes of meth withdrawal. She's told angry teens she doesn't blame them for trying to push her away — again and again. Every child she advocates for as a guardian ad litem might as well be flesh and blood.

"I would go to the ends of the earth to make sure they are receiving what they need and more," Jan says.

Jan has worked with more than 21 children during her seven years as a volunteer in Florida's guardian ad litem program, where she also serves as a peer mentor for new volunteers. This past spring, she won a prestigious Jefferson Award, the nation's highest honor for community service, after being named the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper's Volunteer of the Year.

Deborah Moore, director of Florida's Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program, nominated Jan, describing her as a tireless and passionate advocate for kids, especially those who are "aging out" of the foster care system.

"Everyone who meets and talks with Jan is always impressed with how persistent and relentless she can be," Moore wrote. "Jan is intent on making sure the older youth she advocates for continue to benefit from support and guidance."

Take a young, autistic man named Cody. When he turned eighteen and had to move out of the group foster home where he'd been living for years, Jan helped him find his own apartment, showed him how to follow a budget, how to find the best deals at the grocery store, and how to organize his paperwork.

After three years of Jan's patient mentoring, he now cooks his own meals, cleans his apartment, and washes his own clothes. Every now and then, when he gets lost or flustered, he'll call Jan. He knows her number by heart.

"That's the one thing he's never forgotten," Jan says. "I ask all my kids to memorize my number, so they'll always have a way to reach me if they need to."

Quan, another of Jan's guardian ad litem kids, kept his distance from Jan for years. When she kept showing up and telling him she was there for him, he'd cast suspicious looks her way, as if to say, "Why isn't she going away? Everybody else goes away. I'm going to do things to make her go away."

"I told him I'm not going away," Jan says. "It took him six years to believe that."

Today, Quan is making steady progress toward getting his GED and plans to go enroll in the local community college after that.

Quan's older brother, James, whom Jan also represented as a guardian ad litem, sung her praises at a Black History Month celebration hosted by Florida's Department of Children and Families. The crowd gave Jan a standing ovation after he talked about what a difference she had made in their lives.

"The work I do is a labor of love," Jan says.

Copyright © 2013, National CASA Association.

In Print: GAL Volunteers Receive Gubernatorial Honor

On Monday, July 1, 2013, two guardian ad litem volunteers from Jacksonville were featured in the Jacksonville Financial News and Daily Record following their recognition by Governor Rick Scott.

Volunteering with the Fourth Judicial Circuit since November 2012, Henry and Charlean Lawton were honored with the Volunteer Florida Champion of Service Award on Tuesday, June 25, 2013 at the Capitol in Tallahassee, Florida.

You can see them accepting the award with Governor Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam, Florida Guardian ad Litem Program Executive Director Alan Abramowitz and others in the photograph below.

The article is also reproduced below in case you missed it.

Henry and Charlean Lawton receiving the 'Volunteer Florida Champion of Service Award' with Governor Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam, Florida Guardian ad Litem Program Executive Director Alan Abramowitz and others

Jacksonville couple honored for Guardian ad Litem service
by Joe Wilhelm Jr.
Monday, July 1, 2013
Jacksonville Financial News and Daily Record

Gov. Rick Scott recognized a Jacksonville couple Tuesday with the "Volunteer Florida Champion of Service Award" for their contributions to the Florida Guardian ad Litem program.

Henry and Charlean Lawton are a retired married couple who began volunteering with the 4th Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem program in November 2012.

Their dedication to the program and the children it serves moved program Director Melinda Brown to nominate the Lawtons for the award.

"It is an honor to present this award to Henry and Charlean Lawton, who are outstanding examples of the thousands of dedicated advocates representing children through the Florida Guardian ad Litem program," Scott said in a news release.

"The Lawtons are helping ensure that the children in their community can live up to their full potential, so they can get a great education and pursue their dreams here in Florida," he said.

The Lawtons said they were surprised to receive the award because of the short time they have volunteered with the program.

"They have been great volunteers that have shown a commitment to the program and the children. Whenever we have a situation we need stabilized, they are always willing to take it on," said James Minter, assistant program director.

The award honors individuals and groups for outstanding volunteer efforts.

"The award was humbling, but it's not about us. There are a lot of people working to address the needs of the child. We are just a part of that," said Charlean Lawton.

The Florida Guardian ad Litem Program is invoked by a court whenever a child is removed from a parent by the Department of Children and Families because a child was abused, neglected, abandoned or could not be kept safe in their home. The program currently represents approximately 21,350 children through 8,500 certified volunteers.

The local program is serving 926 children in Duval, Clay and Nassau counties with the help of 341 active volunteers.

The Lawtons had experience working with children — Henry as an ordained minister and Charlean through her church. Serving as a guardians has been a learning experience, they said.

"At times you just want to scream because you want to do something for the child, but it just can't be done," said Henry Lawton.

The program has become addictive for the couple.

"When you start (participating in the program), it's difficult not to do it, we always want to do more," said Charlean Lawton.

They have served as guardians for 11 children and are working on adoptions for four others.

The Lawtons shared stories of children asking for socks and underwear for Christmas or for someone to adopt them for Christmas.

"You've got to find a way to not think about it all the time, because you can," said Henry Lawton.

Minter said the number of kids in the program has been decreasing, but the severity of the abuse has been much worse than last year. The children come from homes where their parents may abuse drugs or alcohol, they are victims of or witness domestic abuse or they are abandoned.

"We are getting a lot of people saying,'We don't want them anymore,'" said Minter.

Henry Lawton talked about not wanting to say anything at the awards presentation with the governor, but changed his mind.

"I had to because the program is just that important. When children can't speak for themselves, an adult needs to be there to speak for them," he said.

"When you are the parent, you can't take that lightly. It's a life-changing experience," he said.

No special background is required to volunteer and staff and legal support are provided.

Volunteers must be at least 21 years of age and successfully complete 30 hours of certification training, six hours annually of re-certification training, spend an average of 10 hours per month working on the case and make at least a one-year commitment to the program.

jwilhelm@baileypub.com     @photojoe71     (904) 356-2466

Copyright © 2013, Bailey Publishing & Communications, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

In Print: Our New Child's Best Interest Attorney

On Thursday, June 13, 2013, a new employee of the Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program was featured in the Tallahassee Democrat.

The Democrat's regular "Briefcase" feature, described as a "roundup of openings, new hires, appointments and promotions in the business community," reported on the addition of Carolyn DeVita to our staff as Child's Best Interest Attorney.

The piece is reproduced below in case you missed it.

Briefcase: Law
Thursday, June 13, 2013
Tallahassee Democrat
Page 6A

Carolyn DeVita has joined the Guardian ad Litem Program as the new Child's Best Interest Attorney. DeVita will work in the Guardian ad Litem Program main office in the Leon Court Annex, providing best interest legal representation for abused and neglected children in the 2nd Judicial Circuit.

Scan of Tallahassee Democrat piece

Copyright © 2013, Tallahassee Democrat. All Rights Reserved.

WFSU-FM Features GAL Program, Staff and Volunteers

WFSU Logo

The Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program was recently featured on WFSU-FM, Tallahassee's local public radio station.

In the story, Tom Flanigan highlights our program and mission while featuring commentary from Circuit Director Deborah Moore, award-winning volunteer guardian ad litem Jan Watford and Child Advocates II, Inc. Board President Brian Sealey.

The short piece is a great listen. You can download an MP3 of the audio or listen to the piece on our YouTube channel, also embedded below.

The story was originally broadcast at 7:40 AM and 9:50 AM on Friday, June 14, 2013. Thank you to WFSU and Tom Flanigan for sharing our mission with their listeners.

In Print: Abramowitz Editorial, Florida Budget News

On Wednesday, May 22, 2013, Alan Abramowitz, Executive Director of the Statewide Guardian ad Litem Program, had an opinion piece published in the Daytona Beach News-Journal.

A few days later on Tuesday, May 28, 2013, Abramowitz emailed staff and volunteers to announce the signing of the state budget, which includes the Guardian ad Litem Program legislative budget request.

Both articles are presented below in case you missed them.

State expands advocacy for Florida children in foster care
by Alan Abramowitz
Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Daytona Beach News-Journal
Opinion

I want to thank Florida's guardian ad litem volunteers for their continued dedication to the children we serve.

I am privileged to be able to travel across the state of Florida, hearing stories of devotion and perseverance in representing Florida's children. The stories are inspiring and make me proud to be a part of the Guardian ad Litem program. Our 9,000-plus volunteers' commitment is not only noticed by me, the children they represent and those within the child welfare community — it is noticed by those in Florida's Legislature and even the governor's office.

Every time I have met with Gov. Rick Scott, he has talked to me about how impressed he is by the work of the thousands of guardian ad litem volunteers, also known as "volunteer child advocates." Scott has friends who are volunteers, and has heard firsthand the enormous impact GAL volunteers make on the lives of children. He understands the essential and often difficult work they do every day. His words are heartfelt — he truly believes in the difference our volunteers are making in children's lives.

It is wonderful to have such unwavering support from Scott. This year, he supported our legislative budget request to expand volunteerism so children can have volunteer child advocates in more cases. I anticipate that soon more than 75 percent of the children who need a guardian ad litem will finally have that voice advocating for them. Our mission is better outcomes for the children we serve — more volunteers will help us achieve our mission.

Other good news: Some of the children we represent are placed in nursing homes, depending on their needs. Scott recently signed a law that would provide representation to meet the needs of these children. With the signing of this law, children placed in nursing homes will now have their voices heard in administrative hearings; representation in attaining guardianships; representation so they may receive services through the Agency for Health Care Administration or the Agency for Persons with Disabilities; and help accessing federal benefits.

Scott recently wrote a letter to Secretary of State Ken Detzner. In the letter he made specific reference to the guardian ad litem program. The governor identifies some "highlights of our strategic Florida Families First budget investments," and includes that "the Florida Families First budget provides $3.8 million to increase volunteers to represent dependent children through court proceedings and $323,000 to provide attorneys ad litem for dependent, disabled children in nursing homes."

Our program will use these dollars consistent with the Legislature's and governor's goal to expand representation and provide effective and efficient representation creating better outcomes for the children we serve.

Thanks again to Scott, Senate President Don Gaetz, and Speaker Will Weatherford for their efforts and recognition that all our volunteers do in expanding representation in foster care so more children will have a voice.

It is an honor to support the efforts every day to impact children's lives.

Abramowitz is the executive director of Florida's Guardian ad Litem Office. Previously, he served as administrator of the Department of Children and Families district that included Volusia and Flagler.

Copyright © 2013, Daytona Beach News-Journal. All Rights Reserved.

Governor Signs Budget
by Alan Abramowitz
Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Great news today for children in foster care.

First, I want to thank you all for your continued dedication to the children we serve. I am privileged to be able to travel across the state of Florida hearing your stories of devotion and perseverance in representing Florida's children. Your stories are inspiring and make me proud to be a part of the Guardian ad Litem Program. Your commitment is not only noticed by me, the children you represent or those within the child welfare community—it is noticed by those in Florida's legislature and even the Governor's office.

Every time I have met with Governor Rick Scott, he has talked to me about how impressed he is by the work of the thousands of Guardian ad Litem volunteers. Governor Scott has friends who are volunteers and has heard firsthand the enormous impact GAL volunteers make on the lives of children. He understands the essential and often difficult work you do every day. His words are heartfelt—he truly believes in the difference you are making in children's lives.

It is wonderful to have such unwavering support from Governor Scott. This year, Governor Scott supported our Legislative Budget Request to expand volunteerism so children can have volunteer child advocates in more cases. I anticipate that soon more than 75% of the children who need a GAL will finally have that voice advocating for them. Our mission is better outcomes for the children we serve -more volunteers will help us achieve our mission.

As you may know, some of the children we represent are placed in nursing homes depending on their needs. Governor Scott recently signed a law that would provide representation to meet the needs of these children. With the signing of this law, children placed in nursing homes will now have their voices heard in administrative hearings; representation in attaining guardianships; representation so they may receive services through AHCA or APD; and help accessing federal benefits.

Governor Scott recently wrote a letter to Secretary of State Ken Detzner. In the letter he made specific reference to the Guardian ad Litem Program. The Governor identifies some "highlights of our strategic Florida Families First budget investments" and includes that the "The Florida Families First budget provides $3.8 million to increase volunteers to represent dependent children through court proceedings and $323,000 to provide attorneys ad litem for dependent, disabled children in nursing homes."

I pledge to each of you that our program will use these dollars consistent with the legislatures and Governor's goal to expand representation and provide effective and efficient representation creating better outcomes for the children we serve.

Thanks again to Governor Rick Scott, Senate President Don Gaetz, and Speaker Will Weatherford for their efforts and recognition of all that you do in expanding representation in foster care so more children will have a voice.

It is an honor to support your efforts every day to impact children's lives.

Statewide Guardian ad Litem Program
Alan F. Abramowitz
Executive Director

GAL Volunteers Recognized at Local Awards Ceremony

On Thursday, April 25, 2013, the Tallahassee Democrat held their annual Volunteer of the Year awards luncheon. Nominated in the social services category from our program were volunteer guardians ad litem Mattie Johnson, Lisa Peerson and Jan Watford.

According to Circuit Director Deborah Moore, Johnson, Peerson and Watford are extremely kind-hearted, committed to advocating for our children and excellent program representatives.

All three women were recognized at the event with certificates, but Watford was surprised and delighted to discover that she won the Jefferson Award, the highest accolade handed out. Watford will next represent our area at the national Jefferson Award event this June in Washington, D.C.

"We are extremely happy for all three of our very special guardian ad litem volunteers," said Moore.

The Democrat's article on the event is presented below in case you missed it. You can also read the Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program's nomination letter for Jan Watford.

Thank you to the Tallahassee Democrat and congratulations to our wonderful volunteers!

Mattie Johnson, Jan Watford and Lisa Peerson
Johnson, Watford and Peerson
click to see larger photographs on Flickr

Tallahassee Democrat honors Volunteers of the Year
by Jordan Culver
Thursday, April 25, 2013
Tallahassee Democrat
News

The Tallahassee Democrat honored its 2013 Volunteers of the Year Thursday afternoon during a ceremony in a packed University Center Club at Florida State University.

Categories included arts, business and government agencies, civic services, education, nonprofit organizations, religion and social services and youth. The Jefferson Award for Public Service honoree was then chosen from the winners of those categories.

Jan Watford, who volunteers with Leon County's guardian ad litem program, was chosen as the Civic Services Volunteer of the Year and was also this year's Jefferson Award winner. She will travel to Washington to compete in a national competition.

Award winners received a plaque and a $300 donation to the charity of their choice from the Tallahassee Democrat. Nominees also received a certificate.

Other winners included: Bonnie Dunkle (arts), Burch Orthodontics (business/government agency), Brent Hartsfield (religion/social services), Maxwell Carraway (education), Delta Kappa Omega Foundation (nonprofit organization/club) and Kaytron Coker (youth).

Copyright © 2013, Tallahassee Democrat. All Rights Reserved.
 

Circuit Director's Nomination Letter for Jan Watford

Jan Watford has been a guardian ad litem volunteer with our program for seven years. Jan's enthusiasm for her role and responsibilities as a guardian ad litem volunteer has stayed strong the entire time.

About six months ago, Jan agreed to serve as a volunteer team leader. Jan comes into our office every day and works closely with one of our volunteer supervisors to help her support volunteers by answering emails and voice messages, remind volunteers about court hearings, reassure and encourage volunteers and organize and manage files. Jan also serves as a peer mentor for new volunteers. Jan provides guidance and direction to our new volunteers during their first year, a very critical time for our new volunteers.

Last year, Jan agreed to serve as chair of our Independent Living Advisory Committee. Jan is especially passionate about our older youth transitioning from foster case out on their own. Jan has been instrumental to help the circuit director move the committee forward and begin training all of our volunteers with a national curriculum to support guardian ad litem volunteers to serve as mentors as well as advocates for our older youth.

Jan has endless energy when it comes to her guardian ad litem volunteer activities. We all get emails from her late into the night! Jan also participates on our Educational Advocacy Committee. Jan is a great help to the circuit director to help communicate regularly with our committee members, create agendas, write up minutes and distribute information.

Every guardian ad litem child deserves someone in their corner standing up for them. Jan makes sure that every child she represents gets every bit of time and attention that she has available. Everyone who meets and talks with Jan is always impressed with how persistent and relentless she can be when it comes to the best interest of the guardian ad litem children. The help that Jan provides as a volunteer team leader supporting one of our volunteer supervisors is invaluable as it directly affects our volunteer retention. Jan provides the much needed backup to our volunteer supervisor and ensures our volunteers receive support in a timely and caring manner.

Jan continues to stay involved with the older youth well after our program and the court has discharged from the case. Jan is intent on making sure that the older youth she advocates for continue to benefit from support and guidance. Many of our youth leave the foster care system without the support of a parent and need someone that can depend on and knows they care like Jan. Whether she continues to mentor the youth or not, all her guardian ad litem children are in her heart forever.

Jan's advocacy is impressive to everyone, not just us. Jan was recently recognized at the Florida Department of Children and Families Black History Month celebration at the Old Capitol Museum for her many years of advocacy with a sibling group; three wonderful young men she is completely devoted to and always has been. The guardian ad litem volunteer role is rewarding but it can be challenging at times so to maintain involvement for so many years is a great achievement. When Jan was first assigned as the boys' guardian ad litem volunteer, they were not welcoming and could not communicate much with her but she was persistent and patience. After a while, they started to call her and ask when she is going to come visit next! Jan agreed to accompany the Guardian ad Litem Program circuit director and executive director to the Capitol recently to visit with various legislators and share her experience as a guardian ad litem volunteer.

When Jan was recognized at the event at the Old Capitol Museum, she received a standing ovation but what Jan talks most about is how happy they boys were that day. Jan is humble, but she deserves lots of accolades and standing ovations! When Jan hits a barrier or obstacle, Jan becomes very innovative and creative to reach her goal for the children that she represents. Jan has learned how to get creative to gather information and make things happen for her guardian ad litem children. Jan has learned how to win some of her children over by bringing treats on her visits and will often show up with homemade cookies. Jan visits her guardian ad litem children at their school and brings them lunch from their favorite place. Jan is the type of individual that is happiest when she making other happy and doing for others.

Whenever we need help, we always think of Jan because her answer is always yes! We are so grateful for Jan's participation in the Guardian ad Litem Program and for her passion and commitment to the guardian ad litem children. Jan attends just about every continuing education opportunity we have available for our guardian ad litem volunteers. Jan wants to learn as much as she can to be the best guardian ad litem volunteer and advocate for each of her children.

Update
2013-07-28: added Jan Watford's nomination letter submitted for the award.

In Print: Tallahassee Democrat

The Tallahassee Democrat recently ran a photograph and small paragraph featuring the Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program.

In the clipping by Glenn Beil, a photograph of our cardboard cut outs displayed in front of the Leon County Court Annex is displayed under the headline "GAL Program promoting children's issues" and containing the following text.

"April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month and May is National Foster Care Month. The Guardian ad Litem Program is helping to promote awareness of these two important issues by displaying messages outside the main office in the Leon County Court Annex on Thomasville Road. The State of Florida Guardian ad Litem Program is a network of professional staff and community advocates partnering to provide a strong voice in court on behalf of Florida's abused and neglected children. Visit guardianadlitem.org for information on becoming a volunteer guardian ad litem."

The entire clipping is presented below in case you missed it.

Original Photo Credit: Tallahassee Democrat/Glenn Beil --- Cardboard cuts outs of children with messages displayed in front of the Leon County Court Annex in Tallahassee, Florida

Thank you to the Democrat for once again featuring our program and mission with their readers.

In Print: A Volunteer Shares Her Experience

Original Photo Credit: Crime Watch Magazine --- image of Sharon Nicholson's article as it appears in print

The February–April 2013 issue of Crime Watch Magazine, a publication of the Leon County Sheriff's Office, features an article written by one of our volunteers.

In the article—"In Giving of Yourself, You Reap the Benefits: The Guardian ad Litem Program"—volunteer guardian ad litem Sharon Nicholson shares how she became involved with our program and describes her positive experiences during four years of service.

The article is presented below. You can also download the magazine and read the entire issue.

Without the support of volunteers like Sharon, our program would not be able to meet the needs of children in our community. We thank her for sharing her experiences and helping to encourage others to volunteer.

In Giving of Yourself, You Reap the Benefits:
The Guardian ad Litem Program

By Sharon Nicholson

February 2013
Crime Watch Magazine

When I first thought about becoming a guardian ad litem volunteer, it was because I wanted to do something different. I wanted to get involved with an organization where I could meet new people, make new friends and experience something new.

I spoke to a couple of co-workers who were guardian ad litem volunteers to gain their perspective and see how well they liked it. After hearing their great reviews, I decided to make the phone call and sign up for the training. It was great! The training had a laid back atmosphere with a lot of interaction between the class and instructors. Everyone was so friendly and nice.

After completing the training, I chose the case I wanted to work on and set out to meet my first child. That was in 2009. Today I'm working on my seventh case for the program. Some cases take longer to resolve then others and no two cases are alike. The guardian ad litem program works in partnership with other community advocates to provide a powerful voice in court on behalf of abused or neglected children.

Being a guardian ad litem volunteer is one of the most rewarding experiences I have had. Seeing the difference you can make in a child's life is immeasurable in knowing you can tell the court exactly what's going on in that child's life, what they want and need, what they think and feel. The best part is when it all comes together in the end and the family is either reunited or the child gets a permanent home with loving foster parents who want to love and nurture your child in the way they deserve. There's no greater satisfaction in knowing you've done your job well.

I encourage anyone to get involved and be a GAL volunteer. You won't regret it! If you'd like more information on becoming a guardian ad litem volunteer, please visit their website, www.gal2.org.

In Print: Florida Trend Magazine

Original Photo Credit: Florida Trend --- Logo of Florida Trend magazine and photograph of Mark R. Howard

On Friday, January 4, 2013, Florida Guardian ad Litem Program Executive Director Alan Abramowitz shared an editorial published in Florida Trend magazine with program staff and volunteers.

The article "Children's Voices" by Mark R. Howard gives an overview of the program and its history; discusses the rational behind and benefits gained using volunteers; and provides a look at the current state of affairs and the program's future goals.

Abramowitz's letter along with the complete article text are available below.

From Alan Abramowitz

Dear Volunteers,

I am pleased to share the column Children's Voices by Mark Howard, Editor of Florida Trend, which is published in the January, 2013 edition of Florida's premier business magazine.

What is especially important is the emphasis Mark places on the vital role of volunteers in service to Florida's Guardian ad Litem program, as well as the cost-effectiveness of the services provided by the professional staff who supervise such dedicated volunteers.

Please feel free to share the column, which can also be found via this link to Florida Trend.

Thank you again for all of your hard work and dedication to the children of Florida.

Respectfully,

Alan Abramowitz

Florida Trend Editorial

Children's Voices
By Mark R. Howard

Thursday, January 3, 2013
Florida Trend
Editor's Page

Scattered up and down Florida is a small army of children—about 31,500—living under court supervision. They are not troubled children living in disorderly homes or kids with drug or psychological problems. The count doesn't even include children whose families DCF may be monitoring.

These 31,500 kids have been abandoned, abused or neglected so badly that the state has removed them from their homes and placed them with relatives, foster parents or in group homes. This October, for example, DCF removed 1,198 children from their parents.

Children, as every good parent knows, want more than anything to feel that they're being heard—even more than they want to get their way. And for 30 years, the state of Florida has struggled to give damaged children a voice amid the clatter and din of its child protection bureaucracy.

Since the 1970s, state law has required that courts appoint an independent advocate—a "guardian ad litem"—for each child they remove from a home. The guardian's task is to track the child's condition in foster care and make sure he gets a say as his case is handled in court.

Implementing the law has been a slog. As with many well-intentioned mandates, the program was never funded sufficiently to hire enough paid case managers. Most children continued to go to court alone. counties experimented with different ways of providing guardian ad litem services, but the program didn't begin to find a real footing until groups including the National Council for Jewish Women and the Junior League in Jacksonville, Gainesville and Miami pioneered the extensive use of lay volunteers.

In 1980, Florida became the first state to use public money for a statewide volunteer guardian ad litem program. By 1990, a volunteer program existed in all of Florida's judicial circuits, but the program didn't have a statewide executive director until 2003. As recently as 2007, only a little more than half of the state's abused children were getting services from a volunteer guardian.

Why volunteers? "Government can't raise a family," says Alan Abramowitz, the statewide program's executive director since 2010. A trained volunteer guardian serving one or two children can spend more time with them than a paid worker with a 45-child case load, he says. The volunteers, who can develop real relationships with the children they serve, offer the best hope of introducing a semblance of normalcy into young lives in which very little has been normal.

Under Abramowitz, the statewide program developed a scorecard to measure its effectiveness. That process included interviewing children. What they wanted most, he says, was "personal interest" in their cases. "We want that unique relationship" between volunteer and child, he says. "We want the volunteer to know the child better than anybody who's being paid."

Results bear him out—children served by volunteers do better at school, get better medical care and other services and return to foster care half as often as others.

"Everybody thinks about an advocate in terms of the courtroom and helping to represent the child before a judge, but most of the advocacy occurs outside the courtroom"—with foster parents, DCF case managers or with school personnel, he says.

Abramowitz has aggressively recruited volunteer guardians and is leveraging the skills of the program's paid staffers, who each now oversee 38 volunteers and help coordinate support services and partnerships with local non-profits that raise money to support the volunteers' work. Volunteers are screened, background-checked, get 30 hours of training and typically handle no more than two children's cases.

So with the same number of paid employees and 10% less money than the program got five years ago, nearly twice as many children are getting services from volunteer guardians.

Of the 21,000 children assigned to the guardian ad litem program, Abramowitz says 74% now have a volunteer guardian assigned to their cases—up from 55% in 2007.

The extensive use of volunteers plays to one of Florida's great strengths, the presence of so many able, active retirees. Abramowitz says some retiree-rich areas like Manatee County, the tri-county Villages area and Fort Myers have as many volunteers as are needed for the children in those areas. (To see the program's scorecard of effectiveness measures and explore volunteering, go to guardianadlitem.org.)

It is worth noting in this time of fractious politics that both Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature have embraced the program. In 2012, lawmakers appropriated an extra $1.8 million to back the effort to recruit, train and support more volunteers. The volunteer count rose by 10% from March through October alone. Abramowitz would like lawmakers to continue that appropriation, with a goal of having a volunteer guardian for each child within five years.

Gov. Rick Scott also signed a law this year that allows volunteers to transport children in foster care, which enables many kids to participate more fully in after-school and other recreational activities—and builds trust between the child and the volunteer.

In a state that generally ranks low on lists of good places to be a child, the statewide guardian ad litem program is an elegant combination of effectiveness and accountability, of individuals joining hands with government to give a voice to innocent kids who are suffering through no fault of their own.

Copyright © 2012, Trend Magazines Inc. All Rights Reserved.