Blue Wahoos Night! **JULY 11**

The NWFGAL Foundation is teaming with the Florida Nurses Association (FNA)  for a night at the ballpark.

Mark your calendars for July 11, at 6:30 pm at the Blue Wahoos Stadium in Pensacola, FL. Plan to stick around for the fireworks display after the game. If you have never been to a Blue Wahoos game, then you are in for a treat. The ball park overlooks Pensacola Bay and downtown Pensacola. We will also have a special guest from the GAL program to throw out the first pitch, so you don’t want to miss that!

Partnering with FNA allows us to highlight our common mission to increase awareness on mental healthcare needs of the vulnerable children in our community.

Tickets are limited, but free for GAL staff, volunteers, caregivers and children. Contact David to get on the list, we will be distributing tickets outside the stadium prior to the gate opening. Watch for more details.

You can use the following form to get on the list, just be sure to let us know how many tickets you would like.

Reflections from the Board

Today’s post comes from Board member Donna Hahn.

I have had a life of volunteer service since I was sixteen years old and introduced to the candy striper program. Wow. I met the most amazing people and heard their stories that so moved me that over the years I have been involved in feeding the homeless, crisis management, rape crisis, the Red Cross, and numerous animal rescue endeavors.

Nothing prepared me for dealing with children in the Guardian ad Litem Program. I had dealt with so many victims, but children were new to me ten years ago.  They have different needs, come from diverse situations, and most of all, they never asked for the situation they are in. They are true victims of society and need a voice. I wanted so much to be that voice and I will briefly share just one of so many examples of how we all can make a difference.

Grace was ten and sheltered with her little brother when I got the case.   She was so smart as any 10 year old I have ever had. She was beyond her years. She knew what her mother needed to pay in rent, who the president was, how to make congress more productive and loved to read.

The first thing I saw after I got the case in March of that year was that she had the same birth date as me in April, so when I saw her for the first time in January I asked her if I could spend my birthday with her and she agreed although she had never been to a restaurant and wondered why I would want to spend my birthday with her. I told her I would make it special, because I know special and she is special, and I called ahead to the Wild Olive in Crestview so they could recognize her birthday with cake and Grace and I had an amazing time and formed a bond that I am proud to say that we share seven years after that day, every year on hers and mine birthday.

There is nothing I have ever done in life that rivals this story I am sharing except many more stories like mine as a proud member of the GAL program. I encourage everyone, everywhere, to reach out and give back with their unique gifts to these children that need a voice – our voice, and your voice.

“To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Mental Health and the Guardian ad Litem Volunteer

Is Mental Health a very big issue in today’s world? It seems everything going on in our world today has a mental health component. Regardless of the debate over violence, the frequent common denominator comes down to mental health issues.

Time and again in conversations with GAL kids it is obvious that the presence of a GAL volunteer in their lives has had a significant positive influence, and in many cases, was the last ‘safety net’ for that child.

In light of recent events in our state there is a public outcry for the Legislature to do something to stop the senseless violence and needless loss of our most vulnerable and innocent population…our children. We would like to submit to our fellow citizens that there is something they can do, today! Become a Guardian ad Litem volunteer and make a difference in a child’s mental health and ultimately their life, and maybe the lives of many others. This is truly your chance to take action and show your community how to change the future.

For those already serving as GAL volunteers, our hats are off to you for all you do.  Your service is invaluable.

Reflections from the Board

Today’s post comes from Board Member Donna Franke.

I have been a Guardian ad litem for six years.  My first case was a teenage girl. I was very excited and super nervous. I went to the home with my mentor, a wonderful wise woman who helped me so much. I knocked on the door, I was terrified the foster mother and the young lady I would be representing would dislike me or that I would say or do the wrong thing.

My mentor knew the foster mom and the two of them went to the kitchen to chat. The minute they left the room the young lady came over to where I was sitting and started telling me how upset she was about her placement. It was like we had an instant bond.  I assured her I would do everything I could to help her.  She asked me if I was a new guardian. I told her yes and asked how she knew. She said you are wringing your hands. I was afraid that she would feel I was new and incompetent.

She put her hand on mine and said, “I have been in the system a long time.  I have been around a lot of workers. Don’t you worry your going to be a good one trust me I can just tell.”  My heart melted, all she had been through and she was comforting me. My mentor started to come back in the room and saw the young lady talking in my ear and holding my hands, she just smiled at me and left the room.

When I left that home, I knew that whatever it took I would fight for this child. I understood the meaning of being a guardian ad litem. I understood how much these children need and depend on you. I realized what a difference I could make in her life.  This child is 21 now and has two beautiful little boys.  I can honestly say that representing these children is the most rewarding thing in my life.

When I take a child out to dinner and realize they have never been to a restaurant or a movie. The first time you take them to the beach or shopping and they are so excited. There is nothing better than giving them normalcy and helping them see how beautiful and deserving they are. Don’t get me wrong there are bad days and a lot of sadness but when you do something that brings these children happiness and you get to see that magnificent  smile there is nothing better.

This just in from Executive Director Alan Abramowitz

Team GAL:

 

I want to show you another of so many cases where the GAL protected the legal rights of a child and defended their best interest.  Best Interest Attorneys are not invisible, although they are unsung heroes.  In the case cited below, a person who committed capital sexual battery was about to get a dependency finding and a case plan until the GAL multidisciplinary team stepped in to protect a newborn child by filing a TPR petition.  The Judge granted dependency and denied the GAL’s TPR petition, filed by the Best Interest Attorney.   The appellate court reversed this case with the following analysis.

 

Here, there was no credible evidence sufficient to show that having C.W. retain the right to parent X.W. is in X.W.’s best interests. C.W. did not produce any evidence at the hearing. And we see nothing in the evidence presented by the GAL that could have credibly shown that maintaining the parental rights of a man who, as a twenty-five-year-old, sexually battered an eleven-year-old girl, who will be incarcerated for that offense until the child is ten, and who will be subject to severely restrictive conditions of probation thereafter is in the child’s best interests. On the contrary, on the facts as found by the trial court, the statutory factors governing the question of manifest best interests showed just the opposite.” – see full opinion at the following link: https://1.next.westlaw.com/Document/I49594e900dc811e8a964c4b0adba4447/View/FullText.html

More information on the pending Florida Constitution Amendment

Please check out these links. They are all informative articles that explain the Guardian ad Litem Program’s opposition to the amendment. Take the time to be informed and then notify your legislators and let them know. The committee member contact information is listed on the nwfgalfoundation Facebook page.

 

http://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/op-ed/article196292789.html

 

http://floridapolitics.com/archives/254356-terry-thomas-children-direct-attorneys-put-harms-way

 

https://www.floridabar.org/news/tfb-news/?durl=%2Fdivcom%2Fjn%2Fjnnews01.nsf%2F8c9f13012b96736985256aa900624829%2F377b1a2aed324f218525821a00502f49

 

https://www.floridabar.org/news/tfb-news/?durl=%2Fdivcom%2Fjn%2Fjnnews01.nsf%2F8c9f13012b96736985256aa900624829%2F03df62fad91381978525821a0051fdbd

 

Call for Action!

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!

Thank you!

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.

Alan Abramowitz

A Great Start in the New Year for the First Circuit and Florida!

Board member, David Van Der Like, along with Foundation member, Ben Van Der Like travelled to Tallahassee for some of this years legislative session. So far State Executive Director Alan Abramowitz has a perfect record guiding bills through committee and eventually becoming law. All for the benefit of the children appointed to the GAL program and the volunteers. It’s a very interesting and enlightening process. If you get the chance, please go see your legislators (or email them) and let them know how important these bills are to the lives of our children.

In the First Circuit, Daniel Jacobs, Volunteer Resource Manager, has created a new website for the circuit. It will be a great resource for everyone and I encourage you to visit and bookmark the site for future reference. There is a copy of the newly created ‘Volunteer Information Packet’ with details about how to request funds from the Foundation for your children. I would encourage you to download the packet and keep it available in case you need funds for qualifying expenses that can make such a difference in the lives of these children. Here is a link to the new 1st circuit website: https://www.gal1.org

Happy New Year! Now back to work!

 

I think this video from the Florida Guardian ad Litem program is a good way to refocus our attention in the new year. We have much work to do and we need everyone willing and able to help us get this important work done. The Foundation has a lot of activities planned for the upcoming year and we hope you will participate with us as we work to improve the lives of our most vulnerable population. If you have the time and want to be included on the email list for calls for volunteer help, send your information to david@nwfgal.org.

This year promises to be one of tremendous growth for our work in the First Judicial Circuit. We already know our volunteers are the best and we look forward to the challenges of 2018!

The Holidays are Here!

I didn’t have the invitations for the other counties to include in the blog but I wanted to give attention to the efforts of the GAL program. There will be Christmas related volunteer appreciation activities throughout the circuit and we sincerely hope you will find the time to attend one in your area. Please contact your CAM or the GAL offices to get information about events near you. We are incredibly grateful for the hard work of the volunteers and sincerely want to honor their efforts. May God bless you for your unselfish service to the children.