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In Print: Deborah Moore

Our very own Circuit Director Deborah Moore was twice published in recent editions of the Tallahassee Democrat.

Her article entitled "To accomplish more good, Guardian ad Litem needs you" was featured in yesterday's Opinion section and her letter to the editor was published on October 17, 2011.

Both are presented below in case you missed them.

To accomplish more good, Guardian ad Litem needs you
By Deborah Moore

Monday, October 31, 2011
Tallahassee Democrat
Opinion/My Word


I am for the child. Will you be for the child, too?

The child I am for is special. She is the little girl who has already suffered in an abusive home, enters the foster care system and is placed in three or four different homes and schools within just a few months. He is the little boy who witnessed a terrible assault on one of his parents. They are the brother and sister whose mother has just been sentenced to prison and who have been split up and reside in different counties.

Thankfully, most people do not know these children. I do. As I write this, there are hundreds of them in Leon and the adjacent counties. I know them all.

These children are served by the Guardian ad Litem Program, which trains and supports volunteers to speak for and advocate for abused and neglected children. These volunteers are people like you and me who look out for the best interests of the child.

The foster care and child welfare system is full of compassionate lawyers, judges, social workers and foster families, but the intense need can strain the system, making it difficult to protect the rights of each child. What are these rights? To be safe. To be treated with dignity. To be loved. To have friends and live in a home with a real family so the child can thrive. Every child deserves a chance to flourish. A child cannot defend his or her rights, but a Guardian ad Litem volunteer can.

With the help of a Guardian ad Litem volunteer, children have better outcomes. Based on national studies, a child with a volunteer is half as likely to languish in the foster care system, and much more likely to find a safe and permanent home. A child with a volunteer is less likely to return to the child welfare system after going home. Protected and nourished while coming through a period of vulnerability and fear, the child can better achieve his or her potential. These former foster kids may become our future doctors, teachers and leaders.

Every day I see first-hand the transformative impact a Guardian ad Litem volunteer can have on a child. Just the other day, while at the grocery store, I ran into Dot Binger, a Guardian ad Litem volunteer for more than 20 years. With the enthusiasm of a new volunteer assigned to her first case, Dot shared an update about her Guardian ad Litem 17-year-old. After providing two years of advocacy, she saw him recently adopted by a wonderful couple. One person can effect change and make a life-long difference for a child, and Dot has done so. Dot is for a child. She is one of our everyday heroes.

Our goal is that every child in the foster care and child welfare system has a qualified Guardian ad Litem volunteer looking out for his or her best interests.

Currently, with the support of about 310 volunteers, we are serving about 530 children in Franklin, Gadsden, Jefferson, Leon, Liberty and Wakulla counties. To serve 100 percent of the children in our area, we need more volunteers. This is our challenge. It is achievable, but only if you or someone you know agrees to join our ranks and to stand up for the rights of a child.

We know what needs to be done. Doing it is the hard part.

Please visit the Guardian ad Litem Web site at http://www.gal2.org and learn how you can help. Then call me and say, "I am for the child."

LEARN MORE
To find out more about Guardian ad Litem, go to http://www.gal2.org.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Deborah Moore is circuit director for the Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program. Contact her at Deborah.Moore@gal.fl.gov

Copyright © 2011, Tallahassee Democrat. All Rights Reserved.

Make a difference; help Guardian ad Litem
By Deborah Moore

Monday, October 17, 2011
Tallahassee Democrat
Opinion/Letters to the Editor


Each year, Make a Difference Day is celebrated nationwide on the fourth Saturday of October. On Oct. 22, millions of Americans will become volunteers and support a program in their community.

In the Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program, which includes Leon, Gadsden, Wakulla, Jefferson, Franklin and Liberty counties, there are nearly 520 abused and neglected children whose cases are involved with the courts. Many of them, who are under 10 years of age, have been removed from their homes because of serious neglect.

Children involved with the court and child-welfare system are full of potential but, regrettably, the absence of a capable adult presence and safe and stable home threatens who they are and what they will become.

These children need a tenacious advocate to speak up for them. They need someone who can help protect their most fundamental human rights and overcome their circumstances.

This year, as we observe Make A Difference Day, I hope your readers will see this as the perfect time to support children in our community by becoming a volunteer with the Guardian ad Litem program.

DEBORAH MOORE
Circuit Director
Guardian ad Litem
Deborah.Moore@gal.fl.gov

Copyright © 2011, Tallahassee Democrat. All Rights Reserved.

New Events: Recruitment Coffees, Guardian ad Litem Day

We regularly host a variety of events to provide community outreach, raise awareness of our program, recruit new volunteers, fund raise and furnish training to our volunteer guardians ad litem. The following events have been recently added to our calendar.

Volunteer Recruitment Coffees
Have your questions answered, talk to current volunteers and learn about our program at our monthly Volunteer Recruitment Coffee. Members of our Volunteer Recruitment Committee will be on hand to discuss the rewards of becoming a guardian ad litem and guide you through the application process.

Guardian ad Litem Day at the Capitol
The Statewide Guardian ad Litem Program announced the next Guardian ad Litem Day will be held on Thursday, February 9, 2012 starting at noon. This annual event brings volunteers, members of the community and legislators together to discuss and expand awareness of the needs of Florida's dependent children as well as honor the achievements of the program.

Welcome to Our New Website!

Original Photo Credit: Sarah Gilbert --- truman doing his homework

On behalf of the Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program, I welcome you to our new website!

Redesigned from the ground up, our new home on the internet offers a clean and modern appearance while providing access to complete information about our program, its history, our events, volunteers, community supporters and much more.

New features include a comprehensive events calendar; event flyers; online continuing education form; this blog; full-text searches; RSS feeds of the blog, blog comments and events calendar; iCalendar downloads for events; improved navigation; and a customized visual theme.

In addition, you can now replace http://guardianadlitem2.org with https://gal2.org in any site URL for situations where short links are preferred. For example, https://gal2.org/contact is the same as http://guardianadlitem2.org/contact. Blog posts have another short link as well; each post's date contains it. For example, https://gal2.org?p=140 is the short link for this post.

Your feedback and questions are welcome. You can visit the Help page for assistance; contact us by mail, telephone or email; or post a comment below.

Thank you for visiting and I hope you enjoy the new website.

Take 5: to Learn About When Old Enough Is Old Enough

Question

Does the State of Florida specify an age at which it is legal to leave a child home alone? For example, when you go to the grocery store, a part time job or the child gets home before you do. What about going to places like public parks or to the mall alone?

Answer

The state of Florida does not have a law or policy that establishes a specific age at which a child may be left alone without adult supervision or be responsible for the care of another child (babysitting, for example). This decision must be based on each child's individual characteristics, such as level of maturity, knowledge and capabilities. This decision also depends on other variables, such as the geographic location of the home; proximity to an adult who could help in case of an emergency or other immediate need; or the availability of communication. Additional examples to consider are the distance to the nearest adult neighbor, availability of transportation and access to a telephone in the event of a crisis.

Such variables and considerations, as a part of a parent's or caregiver's overall decision making, apply to circumstances in which children are allowed to participate in activities or to visit certain locations without adult supervision. Examples are allowing children to visit public parks, pools, malls, movie theatres, etcetera, without a specific, responsible adult accompanying them. Such places add an additional element of possible harm to children due to the potential for predators or accidents.

While there is no stated age limitation in the state of Florida for allowing a child to be left without adult or other competent supervision, in general, parental responsibility in evaluating whether his or her child is of sufficient age, competence, maturity, etcetera, should consider the following factors, noting that this list not exhaustive nor all-encompassing.

  • Child's competence: age, maturity, behavior, habits, special needs and reaction to the supervision plan.
  • Immediate environment: home conditions, neighborhood, time of day, duration and frequency of time without supervision.
  • Presence and accessibility of a capable adult or person to assist with special problems; accessibility of the parent or other parent; and a plan to handle emergencies.
  • Responsibility and expectations; care for other children; cooking and using appliances.
  • Resources available to the parent to improve the supervision plan, if needed.

In essence, a parent or caregiver should consider whether the quality of the supervision plan places the child or children at risk of imminent and serious harm after evaluating his or her child's age, developmental needs, competence, maturity, environment, accessibility to a capable person to assist, etcetera.

There are many articles, publications and resources that might help you decide if your child, regardless of age, is mature enough to safely be left at home alone and to help you prepare your child for this step. Two related online resources for your review follow.

Please remember that if at any time you believe any child is being abused and/or neglected—without adequate supervision, for example—you should immediately call the Florida Abuse Hotline at (800) 962-2873.

The Florida Abuse Hotline also provides the following guidance on their website regarding age factors and children left alone or without appropriate supervision.

How old does a child have to be to be left home alone?

Chapter 39 of the Florida Statutes mandates that the Hotline be contacted when any person who knows, or has reasonable cause to suspect, that a child of any age is being left home alone without adult supervision or arrangements appropriate for the child's age or mental or physical condition, so that the child is unable to care for the child's own needs or another's basic needs or is unable to exercise good judgment in responding to any kind of physical or emotional crisis.

The Hotline Counselor will assess the information provided in the call and make a determination of report acceptance or non-acceptance based on statutory criteria.

For more information on this or other topics, please contact our friends at Florida's Center for the Advancement of Child Welfare Practice.

Take 5: to Learn About Educational Plans

Today's topic is education plans available for all school-age children. Learn more about this important tool, review them for your children (GAL or otherwise) and be sure that schools are following their plans.

Question

What is an educational plan and who needs one?

Answer

An educational and career path plan is necessary for each child in foster care age thirteen and older. Developed with the youth, their foster parent, the case manager and the school, each plan should outline the youth's post-secondary goals and the path to achieving those goals. Thereafter, plans should be reviewed at each Judicial Review hearing.

The 2006 Legislature passed House Bill 7087 (A++) which included changes to the middle grades promotion requirements. One requirement states that students entering the sixth grade in 2006 must enroll in a semester-long course in career and education planning to be completed in the seventh or eighth grade.

As part of the course, students will develop a career and education plan using Florida CHOICES Planner or another career information system such as ePersonal Education Planner (ePEP). Schools must use one of the approved courses to meet this requirement. Some of the approved courses are designated as year-long. In those cases, the classroom teacher can determine which semester to implement the career and education content.

The Educator's Toolkit on Career and Education Planning was developed to assist teachers in planning a comprehensive middle school career course. It provides easy access to classroom activities, lesson plans and related web-based resources. Each module includes a module description, lesson plans with student handouts, recommended websites for additional information and a glossary for the unit.

  1. § 409.1451(3)(b)(1), Florida Statutes (2011).
  2. Florida Department of Education
  3. Florida's Center for the Practice of Child Welfare Practice

Take 5: to Learn About Home Studies

Question

We rely on home studies all the time, but do we know what is actually required to be in a home study? What is included in the home study?

Answer

At a minimum, a home study must include:

  1. An interview with the proposed legal custodians to assess their ongoing commitment and ability to care for the child.
  2. Records checks through the Florida Abuse Hotline Information System (FAHIS), and local and statewide criminal and juvenile records checks through the Department of Law Enforcement, on all household members 12 years of age or older and any other persons made known to the department who are frequent visitors in the home.
    1. Out-of-state criminal records checks must be initiated for any individual designated above who has resided in a state other than Florida provided that state's laws allow the release of these records. The out-of-state criminal records must be filed with the court within 5 days after receipt by the department or its agent.
  3. An assessment of the physical environment of the home.
  4. A determination of the financial security of the proposed legal custodians.
  5. A determination of suitable child care arrangements if the proposed legal custodians are employed outside of the home.
  6. Documentation of counseling and information provided to the proposed legal custodians regarding the dependency process and possible outcomes.
  7. Documentation that information regarding support services available in the community has been provided to the proposed legal custodians.

Additionally, a determination shall be made and documented regarding:

  1. the child's feelings on the placement if the child is of sufficient maturity, understanding, and experience to reliably express such feelings concerning placement in this home;
  2. whether each proposed caregiver understands and is able to meet the child's need for protection;
  3. whether each proposed caregiver understands the child's need for care and permanency and can provide long-term permanency if needed;
  4. whether each proposed caregiver has been informed regarding rights and responsibilities in the dependency process;
  5. whether each proposed caregiver will provide adequate and nurturing care and can ensure an adequate and safe home;
  6. whether each proposed caregiver has a history free of child abuse and free of a criminal record; and
  7. whether or not the placement is to be recommended and an explanation of the decision.
  1. § 39.521(2)(r)(1-7), Florida Statutes (2011).
  2. Rule 65C-28.012(2)(a)(b), Florida Administrative Code (2006).

Take 5: to Learn About Relative Caregiver Funds

Let's spend a few minutes today learning a little more about relative care giver funds with thanks to our friends at Florida's Center for the Advancement of Child Welfare Practice.

Question

What are the eligibility requirements for the relative caregiver program?

Answer

Relatives must be within the fifth degree by blood or marriage to the parent or stepparent; the child(ren) must be under age 18, placed as a result of abuse, neglect or abandonment, adjudicated dependent, a United States citizen or qualified alien and reside in Florida and placed by a Florida court; there must be an approved home study; and there must be a court order placing children in temporary legal custody of the relative.

  1. § 39.5085(2)(a-e), Florida Statutes (2011).
  2. Rule 65C-28.008, Rule 65C-30.009(2)(c)b, Florida Administrative Code (2011).
  3. Operating Procedure № 175-79, Florida Department of Children and Families (2001).
Question

Can a relative get relative caregiver funds under the "Fit and Willing Relative" permanency goal?

Answer

Yes, if the relatives meet the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) relative caregiver eligibility requirements.

  1. § 39.5085(1)(c), Florida Statutes (2011).
Question

Can a relative get relative caregiver funds if the parent of the child lives in the home?

Answer

No, the parent and child cannot reside in the same home. If the parent is in the home thirty consecutive days or more, then the relative caregiver payment must be terminated. If the parent is under the age of eighteen, then the relative may receive the relative caregiver payment if both the minor parent and child have been adjudicated dependent and placed in the home by the court.

  1. Policy 2020.0402, Economic Self-Sufficiency Public Assistance Manual, Florida Department of Children and Families (2007).