Folks, I know this is a long email but it is critically important that we take action before this amendment is passed. The following is an email from GAL Executive Director Alan Abramowitz. There is more information on the NWFGALFoundation Facebook page along with committee member contact information. Please take the time to be informed about this issue!
Staff, Volunteers and Supporters;
Recently I updated you that the CRC has convened and is hearing proposals in subcommittee. I am concerned about Proposal 40 that is titled “Counsel for Children.” It proposes creating a right to counsel for children in dependency proceedings: “[E]very child who has been removed from the custody of his or her parents or a legal guardian by the state due to abuse or neglect, or is otherwise placed in the jurisdiction of the dependency court, has a right to counsel.”
While the proposal sounds like its giving something new and better to children, the practical effect of it is that instead of best interests representation, all children will be given a constitutional right to an attorney. As a GAL myself, thinking about the children I’ve represented, I can’t imagine them being out on their own, “directing” their attorney, and choosing what they will or won’t tell the court, without an independent advocate for their best interests. As Executive Director of this Program, I think of all your work – the time you spend with these children, the constant pushing of the system, the connections you give them to the communities, and the incredible legal advocacy by our attorneys. I think abused and neglected children lose under Proposal 40.
Proposal 40 has been set for a hearing before the Declaration of Rights Committee next Thursday, January 25 at 8:00 a.m. The agenda will be posted Monday here:https://flcrc.gov/Committees/DR/ We will be one of the presenters, and the Commissioners will vote on whether the Proposal moves to the next committee or fails.
If the proposal makes it to the ballot, the general public likely will not understand that abused, abandoned, and neglected children already have a statutory right to representation by a GAL, which includes a best interest attorney on the team. If it passes, the issue cannot be reconsidered for 20 years.
I am contacting commissioners to educate them on why best interests representation is better for traumatized abused and neglected children, to explain that our Best Interests Attorneys are already advocating for children’s interests, and to tell them that every day GAL volunteers improve children’s lives in ways you could never put a price tag on.
I will keep you updated on this important issue for our children. Thank you for all you do.