In-Service Opportunities for Volunteer GALs

In order to better facilitate the required six hours of yearly in-service training for our volunteer Guardians Ad Litem to maintain their volunteer certification with the GAL Program, we have provided a list of literature and media that is able to be utilized to fufill this requirement. Please click the link below to access the myriad of options a volunteer GAL has at in-service opportunities, and please contact your assigned Volunteer Coordinator if you have any questions.

In-Service Opportunities for GAL Volunteers

The Florida Statewide Guardian ad Litem Program: Now on Facebook and Twitter

The Florida Statewide Guardian ad Litem Program invites you to follow them on Facebook & Twitter. From time to time, the Program will be posting news, upcoming conferences and interesting child welfare articles both on FB (found at www.facebook.com/pages/Tallahassee-FL/The-Florida-Statewide-Guardian-ad-Litem-Program/164070170277062) & Twitter (found at www.twitter.com/FL_Guardian). Please take a look at this information on dependent children who need a voice throughout the state of Florida, & learn how you can help out in your community.

Attorney’s Advice: Who Is The Father & Why Does He Matter?

As a Guardian ad Litem, it is our job to find a permanent solution for the children we are appointed to represent.  An important, and often overlooked, piece to finding permanency is legally dealing with the father of the child.

The courts define a father as a person whose consent would be necessary to allow an adoption (Florida Statute §63.062 (1)(b)).  There are three different definitions of a father:

A Legal Father is one who:

  • Was married to the mother at the time of the child’s conception or the child’s birth, irrespective of biology.  For example, if a woman married a man before the first of her children was born, and she is still married to that man, then he is the legal father of all the children.  This is true even if the husband and wife have not seen each other in ten years or if another man steps forward with DNA results proving he is the biological father. The husband remains the legal father of any child born to his wife unless or until a proper jurisdictional court ruling determines another man to be the father of her children, or
  • Has been established by a court proceeding (paternity or child support action, adoption, etc) to be the father, or
  • Is on the birth certificate.  A man’s name is placed on the birth certificate when both the mother and the man signed and filed an affidavit of paternity.  (Florida Law is specific that it is the filing of the affidavit – which is part of the birth certificate process – that triggers fatherhood, not the birth certificate itself.

Caveat:  If the woman was married to another man, the husband is the legal father, irrespective of the birth certificate.

A Legal father must be served with the dependency petition (or sought for service by a diligent search).

A Putative Father is someone who is thought to be the father because he:

  • Is identified by someone “with knowledge” (i.e., the mother or other family members) who believes this man to be the father, or
  • Is identified by the Putative Father Registry (PFR).  The PFR is a division of the Office of Vital Statistics and protects the constitutional rights of an unmarried biological father, who may have a child by an unmarried (at the time) woman.  A man who wants to acknowledge the child that he may have fathered may register with this registry.  Florida law requires that if there is not a known father, then the PFR must be searched when a Termination of Parental Rights (TPR) petition is filed.

A Putative father is entitled only to notice of the court action.

A Biological Father, if he is not the legal father, or has not taken the required steps to establish himself as the father, is merely the contributor of half of the child’s DNA.

You may be asking yourself why you need to know all this information?  Why does the father matter?  The answer is permanency.

Permanency is always the goal for children in the dependency process.  Ideally, that means addressing the problem that brought the children into care so that the children are reunified with the parent from whom they were removed.  We need to make sure that the father of each child is identified as soon as possible.  This is important for several reasons:

  • If a father was not involved in the issues of concern, then perhaps he is an appropriate placement for his child, or for all of the children, while the other parent(s) addresses the family’s problems.
  • Permanency may mean finding a permanent alternative to the removal home, including termination of parental rights.  We need to determine which persons must be addressed in the termination proceedings.
  • If an adoption takes place and the father issue is not properly addressed, the adoption could be overturned.

It is critical to understand who is and who could be a father in any given case because failure to do so could completely undermine attempts to achieve permanency for the children involved.

The father of each child should be addressed IMMEDIATELY.  Beginning at Shelter, we need to inquire about the identities and possible locations of all fathers and try to determine their legal relationship to the child for dependency purposes.  Never wait until a case is failing to look for fathers.  A diligent search for a parent may take weeks to complete.  This delays permanency for the child. 

If you determine that a father has not been properly addressed for any of the children on your cases, please bring it to the attention of your Volunteer Coordinator and Attorney immediately.  With your diligence in this matter, permanency for all our children can be achieved in a timely manner.

Greetings from Circuit Director Cookie Mooney

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Dear Guardian ad Litem Volunteers and Supporters,

Imagine you are a child being taken from your home and put in a foster home, a group home or with a relative placement as a result of dependency.

Now imagine that this new and strange home is hundreds of miles away from the place you know as your home….far from your parents, far from any relatives, far from your friends and far from the sights and sounds you are familiar with.

In the 10th Circuit, we have over 45 children that are placed in distant Circuits or out of state. Like the children that are located in our community, these children are also in need of someone who will make sure that their voices are heard, even if they are miles away from where they call home.

As the child’s volunteer Guardian, you would be responsible for court appearances and pertinent staffings, but not for monthly visits. You would receive monthly reports from the visiting circuit, and, with the guidance of your Volunteer Coordinator and legal team, would play a critical role in helping these children receive all necessary services, as well as achieve permanency in a timely manner.

In a similar manner, children that have come from other circuits within the state of Florida also need your assistance in their time of need. These children, much like the ones who have been placed outside our community, require someone who will be there to speak on their behalf. As a courtesy volunteer Guardian, you would only be responsible with making monthly visits, and your Volunteer Coordinator would assist in reporting back to the assigned circuit any needs or concerns you observe during your time with these needy children. Your work as a courtesy GAL would be beneficial in achieving permanency and addressing their best interest.

The need for these children to be represented by you is vital to them getting back to normalcy. Please contact your Volunteer Coordinator to find out more about advocating for an out-of-circuit child.

A Child’s Story by Jeff Adams

Back in 1997 a very good friend introduced me to what being a Guardian ad Litem is all about. I have to thank Deb Mancini profusely for motivating me to sign up and become a GAL volunteer. As I recall, back at that time there was one GAL attorney and four office staff to assist in recruiting and training volunteers to come to the aid of children involved with dependency proceedings (child abuse).

In 1999 I received my second case. This involved a special young child that began his involvement with “the system” around 1994

and allegations of inadequate supervision. As I write this message for the newsletter I am reflecting both on how the GAL program has evolved throughout the years I have been affiliated with it, as well as, the experience that I have shared with this – now – young man.

Let me tell you a little bit about “Allen’s” story (I will not use his real name). The reports of abuse that involved his family go back to 1994. The Department of Children & Families (then HRS) began their involvement with various in home interventions. In 1

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998 Allen and his sister were removed from the home and placed into care with the State of Florida. It wasn’t long before I found myself in the middle of a termination of parental rights action, with me recommending that the parents’ rights be severed. Allen knows I was very much a part of that, but he doesn’t blame me for taking that position. He knows I was simply trying to protect him and his sister.

There are times when I wonder if I am worthy of this mission. Many times I grieve very heavily over the decisions that we as GALs must make. For Allen, the removal from the abusive home environment meant that, over time, he would spend 500 days in temporary shelter care;experience over 30 different foster care placements; spend 50 lonely days in DJJ detention; and 400 days in DJJ residential commitment and treatment programs. Did I mention the ten different elementary schools he confusingly waded through in this disruptive childhood development? I guess that explains his FCAT scores.

I don’t want to paint a picture where Allen is a perfect angel and the system failed him. What I would like to present is a child who is hurting, and who loved his parents in spite of what he experienced at their hands and in their care. The way our child welfare system works is that the children are removed from parents who have been found to be a threat of harm, or who have actually injured their child through maltreatment, neglect, or sexual abuse. The ideal would be to remove the parents, perhaps, and have “Nanny 911” rushed to the home. That way, the children would experience the lesser disruption to their life. As it is, the children who are removed get confused and often wonder if it was because of something they did.

In the last ten years I have seen a greater focus on child welfare and I have seen the GAL Program grow, and decline, due to budget restraints. Currently, I am one of over four hundred and fifty volunteers that assist the program in protecting children who have experienced alleged abuse or neglect. There are earlier interventions utilized now, and other intensive in-home approaches to rehabilitating parents who may have lacked the proper training in child care, or who needed services and assistance in overcoming their addictions or other complications thatlife seems to spread out so abundantly. I am glad to be a part of the program that serves in this capacity, and thereby, might serve to give both parents and children another chance to “get on course”, and to succeed.

child welfare guidelines focus with intent on “twelve months to permanency”; this is part of a federal mandate to achieve a solution to the family’s problem within “child time” and remediate, rehabilitate, or provide another permanency solution for the children, including terminating the parents’ legal rights if that is found to be necessary. All within one year. That is the theory and the hope.

Officially, my role as GAL meant that I looked out for the child’s “best interests”, but not long after accepting this case Allen was more than just a “case” to me. He has been in my life just a few years less than my own sons. I have watched Allen play little league baseball when he was small and saw the joy in his face when he proudly baked cookies just last year. I have spent birthdays, Christmas, Halloween, and other countless events with this boy over the years, trying to give him something constant and stable in his life (I even suffered the cafeteria food in order to share lunchtime with him at school).

I never judged Allen, I always tried to be there for him, guide him when he would listen, and speak for him when it was time to go to court. And there were plenty of court hearings, let me tell you. I have seen Allen in church clothes, street clothes, baseball uniforms, school uniforms, and even the bright orange of the Department of Juvenile Justice – I always tried to treat him the same.

Last year Allen turned eighteen, and as soon as he could, he got on a plane and headed to the person he worried about the most over the years – his biological mother – who he had recently heard was now dying from cancer. I had thought and struggled over the years with adopting this young boy myself. How many of the negative experiences could have been avoided, how much could his suffering have been less, if only things had been different?

The impact of the Guardian ad Litem Program has been far reaching and relentless in presenting the best interest issues for the permanency of children to the court. The stories of my fellow volunteers are full of the extra mile they have gone on behalf of fighting for the cause of the children they represent, whether it be regarding their education, disability, mental health, independent living for those older children, or establishing the proper permanency outcome for all of the children.

The role of the Guardian ad Litem is to be the voice of children involved in dependency proceedings. At a time ofalleged abuse, neglect, or maltreatment, this cannot be a time for these wounded children to be seen and not heard. The history of this program has been acknowledged by the legislature in the statutes, where it is stated:

The Legislature finds that for the past 20 years, the Guardian ad Litem Program has been the only mechanism for the best interest representation for children in Florida who are involved independency proceedings. (39.8296)

That was included in the statutes in 2006, but I believe it states my purpose for volunteering, each and every day that I am able to. I encourage my fellow volunteers to persevere and continue the good fight. I am very grateful to have this opportunity to serve children in need.

New Child Visit Report form

A new Child Visit Report form has been created based on State Guidelines. This form is the only authorized visitation form. ALL visits must be recorded on this new form. If you have not already received a copy of the form from your case coordinator, please contact them immediately! Special attention should be paid to the section on medications. Each GAL should record ALL medications a child is taking. Thank you for your cooperation.

Child Visitation Report

Reminder

Children need to be seen every 30 days. Please use the new visitation forms and remember to record all medications accurately.
If you are unable to make a visit, please call your volunteer coordinator to request a courtesy visit.

Circuit 10 | Hardee, Highlands, Polk