Saturday, December 01, 2012
The Power of One. Guest Blog by Rosi Alvarez
Nothing will test your humanity and engage your abilities more than being a Guardian Ad Litem. Guardians ad Litem stand up for children. We preserve their dignity as they navigate the court system, and ensure their voices are heard.
The Judge said that “M” has one of the greatest smiles she has ever seen. Developmentally disabled, abused, and ravaged by mental illness, “M” understands life with wisdom unique to those who suffer, yet carry on. Month after month, she waits for her Guardian’s visit, wearing that smile and her best dress; she knows her GAL is there for her, and will stand for her in a way no one ever did.
The 11th Judicial Circuit Guardian Ad Litem Program organized in 1981 as a result of a state mandate to appoint court advocates in all child abuse proceedings. It is a unique collaboration of community volunteers, staff, and GAL attorneys. Currently, the local GAL program represents about 1,800 children in the dependency court system; the number represents 60% of the total number of children in care, leaving 40% of children without a voice in court. Abuse is a near-invisible issue in the community: these children are neither seen nor heard. Only their Guardians will speak for them, and make sure they do not fall through the cracks of the system.
“Ad Litem” literally means “for the purposes of a legal case”. A volunteer must complete 30 hours of training, including twelve hours of continuing education a year; submit to a background check; and be at least 21 years of age. As a party to the case, the Guardian Ad Litem, through a staff attorney, is entitled to present evidence, subpoena, cross-examine witnesses, and in some cases appeal decisions. Appointed by Judges to protect the best interest of abused and neglected children, Guardians make sure the children are placed in a nurturing environment that will, ideally, lead to permanency within a year. They also provide youth “aging out” of the system with the tools necessary to succeed as they transfer into adulthood.
Florida’s 20 circuit programs recruit and train their own volunteers and are part of the Court Appointed Special Advocates (C.A.S.A), the national organization frequently profiled on the Dr. Phil Show. Children with GAL’s are half as likely to languish in foster care, and twice as likely to find a safe, permanent home—a step in breaking the cycle of abuse. About 40% of America’s homeless population is aged-out foster youth, and 90% of Florida’s inmates were in foster care. A GAL can provide the resources to make sure that our kids have an alternative. An outstanding example of community service, by anyone’s standards.
For more information, please contact Laura Juncadella at 786-469-3814, or by email at Laura.Juncadella@gal.fl.gov. “Like” us at www.facebook.com/GAL11Volunteers, or Follow us @GAL11Volunteers.