Voices For Children Foundation, Inc.

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Please click on the titles below to download or simply click the tabs to read each section of the Voices For Children Foundation media kit. For more information please contact our Communications Manager, Beatriz Bellorin at 786-469-3865 or by email at BBellorin@BeAVoice.org.

 

Click to download: Voices For Children Foundation Mission, Vision and History

Mission

Voices For Children raises funds to ensure that every abused, abandoned and neglected child in Miami-Dade County has a court-appointed Guardian ad Litem (GAL).

Vision

Voices For Children is a leader among peer organizations concerned with the support and future success of abused, abandoned, or neglected children and youth.  As such, Voices views its organizational purpose and identity in these ways:

  • Guarantor of 100% GAL Representation.  Provide the support needed to maintain 100% GAL representation of abused, abandoned, or neglected children and youth.
  • Guarantor of Optimal Quality of GAL Support.  Enhance the quality of GAL representation for every child and youth in the foster care system using a team model for child representation:  a GAL staff supervisor, a GAL staff attorney, and a GAL representative.
  • Guarantor of Life and Leadership Skills, Education, and Enrichment. Increase funding to meet the basic needs of foster children and youth for which the GAL Program is currently not sufficiently funded, including physical and mental health, dental, immigration, education, career training, enrichment programs, mentoring and leadership skills development.
  • A Leader.  Voices is a leading non-profit advocacy and funding organization working to expand the effectiveness of representation for children and youth in the foster care system and to provide financial support for their education in life skills development and enrichment activities. All foster care youth who have GAL representation and those who have moved out of the court system are given the chance to participate in opportunities designed to help them develop as productive, independent members of society. 

History

In 1984, three juvenile court judges were moved to action by the vulnerability of the abused, abandoned, and neglected children passing through their courtrooms every day. Helpless and frightened, many of these children were in need of medical care, clothing, and other basic necessities. Recognizing these needs, the judges organized a group of volunteers to administer a small fund of donations and fines. Later on, Voices For Children Foundation was born as the fundraising arm of the 11th Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program.

For almost 30 years, Voices For Children Foundation has worked hard to ensure that every abused, abandoned, and neglected child in Miami-Dade County has an adult advocating for their best interests in court and that financial assistance and other resources are available to meet their needs.

The 11th Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program recruits, trains, supports, and supervises court-appointed adults to represent the best interests of Miami-Dade’s abused, abandoned, and neglected children in dependency court proceedings. Guardians ad Litem serve as the “voice” of abused, abandoned, or neglected children in juvenile court.

Begun as a grassroots organization in 1981, the Miami-Dade’s Guardian ad Litem Program is the largest in Florida and is currently one of the most nationally respected GAL Programs, serving one of the largest urban populations of child abuse, abandonment, and neglect in the nation. It is part of a nationwide network of advocacy organizations under the umbrella of the National Court-Appointed Special Advocates Association (NCASAA).


Click to download: Voices For Children Foundation – Programs

Below is a list and description of Voices For Children programs. For more information please visit www.BeAVoice.org or contact Dorothy Marin at 786.469.3862 or by email at DMarin@BeAVoice.org. 

Guardian ad Litem Program 

Miami-Dade County’s Guardian ad Litem Program is home to over 500 community volunteers who, with the help of professional staff, provide a powerful voice and much needed oversight on behalf of Miami’s abused, abandoned and neglected children.

In Miami-Dade County, there are over 3,100 children who find themselves in the foster care system, with overwhelming feelings of loss for family, rights, and hope.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can be the one to give that child back their sense of belonging, their rights, and best of all, hope for a better life.

“[I] have been in foster care for about two years and I feel that it has been the greatest thing to happen in my life. Not because the system works but because there are people within the system who are willing to do whatever it takes to make sure that a child has everything he or she deserves. … I would also like to acknowledge my Guardian ad Litem for being there for me every step of the way. … It is not the system that recreates a child’s life, but the people working within it.”

17 year old Miami-Dade County foster youth (October 2013)

Guardian ad Litem Program—Main Office
3300 NW 27th Avenue
Miami, FL 33136
T: 305-638-6861 

For volunteering information, please contact Victoria Harris at 786-469-3864 or by email at victoria.harris@gal.fl.gov 

Children’s Needs Program

Voices’ Children’s Needs Program supplements the woefully insufficient State funding and Federal entitlements to the children we serve with direct financial assistance.  Voices provides funds to address Basic Essential Needs, such as food, clothing, rent/utility assistance, furniture, transportation, etc.; Educational Needs such as school uniforms, tutoring, school supplies, after school care, etc.; and Social and Enrichment Needs such as extracurricular activities, camp, senior year activities, and more.

The Children’s Needs Program also funds the following projects: 

Artistic Expressions Workshops

Artistic Expressions Workshops offer enrichment opportunities to children in areas such as photography, painting, and hot glass blowing, among other expressions of art. The workshops are designed to offer youth a means to heal the pain of their difficult lives, gain a sense of control, find a positive outlet for self-expression and enhance their sense of well-being.

Youth are paired with participating local artists and the activities carried out in each workshop are dependent upon the curriculum established by the artist-mentors.  Typically, each small group of foster youth meet with the artist-mentor in interactive workshops where they learn background on the art form, choose a theme for their artwork and receive artistic guidance and the necessary supplies and materials to execute their project. In each final workshop, the artist-mentor assists the youth in completing their creations and preparing them for public display.

Back To School Event

As part of our Children’s Needs Program, Voices For Children partners with Old Navy, in the Shoppes of Dadeland, to provide approximately 600 foster youth with school uniforms and essential clothing. Since 2011, Old Navy closes to the public while the children have the opportunity to shop for their own clothing with gift cards valued at $75 or $100 based on the child’s age. Partner Office Depot also provides backpacks with school supplies, which are distributed to youth that evening.

Empower A Student

The Empower A Student Program works with organizations such as His House, Children Home Society of Florida and Miami Bridge Youth and Family Services, Inc. to find students. Volunteers are matched with one child in foster care and work with him/her for one hour a week. This program began in 2010 with the dream of Rhonda Rose to offer free quality tutoring to foster children in Miami-Dade County who want to improve themselves. Our goal is to emphasize the control of their future, increase their confidence in themselves, and encourage a love of learning. We believe that education is the critical component to empower foster children to ultimately become productive adults in their future.

It Takes A Village (ITAV)

Generously funded by The Zyman Foundation, this project provides motivated but disadvantaged dependent or formerly dependent youth and young adults with the funding and other support needed to successfully attend and graduate from college in order to become healthy and productive adults and contributing community members.

The initial program started in 2012 with approximately $10,000 in college life scholarships awarded to ten youths to help cover school and living costs while attending college. Participants must remain enrolled full time while maintaining a 2.5 GPA,  live on campus their first year, show effective financial management of the funds received, demonstrate pro-social behavior, secure employment during the summers or remain enrolled in school, and stay in weekly contact with the Children’s Needs Program Manager.

 

Click to download: Fact Sheet

WHY VOICES FOR CHILDREN?

For 31 years, Voices has provided funding to support the 11th Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program. The state of Florida requires that the interests of every abused, abandoned, and neglected child be represented by a Guardian ad Litem (GAL). However, the GAL Program does not receive adequate public funding, so Voices For Children Foundation fills the gap. Additionally, Voices raises funds to meet the social, education, and medical needs of Miami-Dade’s abused, abandoned, and neglected children.

WHAT IS THE GUARDIAN AD LITEM (GAL) PROGRAM?

The 11th Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program recruits, trains, supports, and supervises court-appointed adults to represent the best interests of Miami-Dade’s abused, abandoned, and neglected children in dependency court proceedings. Guardians ad Litem serve as the “voice” of abused, abandoned, or neglected children in juvenile court. www.WeAreGuardians.org

It is part of a nationwide network of advocacy organizations under the umbrella of the National Court-Appointed Special Advocates Association (NCASAA). www.CasaForChildren.org

HOW MANY CHILDREN DOES THE GAL PROGRAM REPRESENT?

Although the number fluctuates, as of May 2016, there were 3,039 children in Miami-Dade’s foster care system. That month, the GAL Program represented approximately 70% of those children and youth, leaving approximately 887 youth without a voice in court.

WHAT ARE THE DEMOGRAPHICS OF THESE CHILDREN?

Approximately 51 % of these children are African American, 40% are Hispanic, 1% are Caucasian, and 8%  are multicultural and/or other ethnicities; 43% are 0-5 years, 22% are 6-9 years old, 15% are 10-13 years old, 19% are 14-17 years old, and 1% are 18 years of age or older (Eleventh Judicial Circuit GAL Program, April 2016); and approximately 51% of these children are below the federal poverty level, 40% are low-income, and only 9% are above moderate income level.  All of these children are the victims of sexual abuse, physical abuse, domestic violence, alcoholic or drug-addicted parents and neglect.

MORE ABOUT VOICES…

WHAT DO GALs DO?

• Speak up for the best interests of the child
• Gather information through regular visits with the child
• Conduct interviews with people associated with the child
• Attend hearings on the child’s behalf
• Make recommendations to the judge

WHO CAN BECOME A GAL?
Anyone who:
• Possesses a strong desire to help children
• Demonstrates good judgment and common sense
• Exhibits good communication skills
• Provides favorable references and consents to a background check
• Completes 30 hours of training
• Is at least 19 years old 

HOW CAN I BE A VOICE?

If you would like to make a financial contribution, please contact Voices For Children at 305.324.5678 or donate online please visit www.BeAVoice.org
To become a Guardian ad Litem volunteer, call 305.638.6861 Ext. 245. 

For media inquiries please contact Beatriz Bellorin at 786.469.3865 or BBellorin@BeAVoice.org.

 

Click to download: Hoja de información básica

¿CON QUÉ  FIN SE CREÓ  VOICES FOR CHILDREN?

Durante 31 años, Voices ha recaudado fondos a beneficio del  Programa Guardian ad Litem del onceavo Circuito Judicial del Condado de Miami. La ley del estado de Florida establece que las necesidades básicas de niños abusados, abandonados y descuidados deben ser representadas por el Programa Guardian ad Litem (GAL), sin embargo, el programa no recibe fondos suficientes para que todos los niños del condado sean representados. Es por ello que la organización sin fines de lucro, Voices For Children fue creada con el propósito de recaudar fondos para que éstos niños tengan un voluntario “Guardian ad Litem” y que puedan contar con los recursos financieros necesarios para cubrir sus necesidades médicas, educativas y sociales.

¿CUÁL ES LA FUNCIÓN DEL PROGRAMA GUARDIAN AD LITEM?

El Programa Guardian ad Litem recluta, entrena, apoya y supervisa a voluntarios “Guardian ad Litem” para representar los mejores intereses de niños abusados, abandonados y descuidados. Los voluntarios actúan como “portavoces” de aquellos niños cuyos casos son atendidos por el tribunal de menores velando por su bienestar y derecho a un hogar digno y estable. www.WeAreGuardians.org; www.CasaForChildren.org.

¿ACTUALMENTE CUÁNTOS NIÑOS REPRESENTA EL PROGRAMA GUARDIAN AD LITEM?

Para el 15 de mayo, 2016, aproximadamente 3.039 niños formaron parte del sistema de dependencia del Condado de Miami. Durante ese mes, el Programa GAL representó alrededor del 70% de estos niños y jóvenes. 887  no tuvo representación en la corte.

¿CUÁLES SON LAS CARACTERíSTICAS DEMOGRÁFICAS DE ÉSTOS NIÑOS?

Aproximadamente el 51% de estos niños son Afroamericanos, 40% son Hispanos, 1% son Caucásicos y 8% son multiculturales y/o de otra etnicidad; 43% se encuentran dentro del rango de edades de  0-5 años, 22% entre 6-9 años, 15% entre 10-13 años, 19% entre 14-17 años, y 1% entre 18 años o mayores (Programa Guardián ad Litem del Onceavo Circuito Judicial, abril 2016). Aproximadamente 51% de estos niños se encuentran debajo de la línea de pobreza federal; 40% tienen bajos ingresos y sólo 9% están por encima del nivel moderado de ingresos. En su gran mayoría, estos niños son víctimas de abuso sexual, abuso físico, sufren de violencia doméstica o tienen padres alcohólicos, drogadictos y/o extremamente descuidados.

¿QUÉ ROL TIENEN LOS VOLUNTARIOS “GUARDIAN AD LITEM”?

  • Representan el mejor interés del niño
  • Reúnen información a través de visitas regulares al niño
  • Entrevistan a gente allegada al niño
  • Acuden a audiencias en las que representan al niño
  • Hacen recomendaciones al juez asignado a cada caso

¿QUIÉN PUEDE SER UN VOLUNTARIO “GUARDIAN AD LITEM”?

Cualquier persona que:

  • Posea un fuerte deseo en ayudar a niños
  • Demuestre buen juicio y sentido común
  • Sea elocuente
  • Tenga buenas referencias y esté dispuesto a someterse a un chequeo de antecedentes
  • Complete 30 horas de entrenamiento
  • Tenga por lo menos 19 años de edad

Para ser un voluntario “Guardian ad Litem,” llame al 305.638.6861 Ext. 245.

¿CÓMO AYUDAR?

A través de una contribución financiera, contactándonos al 305.324.5678 o haciendo una donación en nuestra página web en www.BeAVoice.org

Para información sobre comunicaciones contacte a Beatriz Bellorín al 786.469.3865 o BBellorin@BeAVoice.org

Para contribuir con Voices For Children por favor llame al 305.324.5678 o visite www.BeAVoice.org

Click to download: Testimonials

Amazing Maria

Born in Nicaruaga, Maria and her sister Teresa were abandoned by their mother when they were toddlers. Maria was sexually and physicall abused by her uneducated,alcoholic father for years before Maria’s grandmother took her an Teresa into her home. Unable to care for both children, their grandmother paid smugglers to take Maria to the United States. Initially detained as an illegal immigrant, Maria was eventually brought by her aunt and uncle to their Miami home. Soon after, Teresa was also sent to live with their aunt and uncle, where—unknown to the grandmother that sent the children to America for better lives—both girls were kept as slaves in their new home. They did all the cooking and cleaning, they were not alllowed to attend school, and they were regularly beaten by their aunt and uncle who threatened them with deportation. Only Maria was allowed to leave the house, to work illegally in a local restuaraunt to pay rent and buy food.

Encouraged by a  young woman at her job, Maria went to the police who alerted the Florida Department of Children and Families who removed Maria and her sister Teresa from their horribly abusive situation. Placed in foster care in 2009, with the help of a caring and competent Guardian ad Litem advocate, Maria thrived despite her limited English proficiency.  Her GAL supported Maria in high school and she graduated with a 3.6 GPA. A bright girl, Maria worked hard to pass the FCAT. She did well on the SAT and she now  attends Florida International University (FIU) . Her dream is to become an attorney so she can fight for children’s rights.

Maria’s GAL secured the support of Voices’ Children’s Needs Program, which provided Maria with food and clothing throughout her ordeal. She is now 20 years old, and pays rent in her sister’s foster home so she can be near her younger sister. With the help of her GAL, Maria completed her financial aid applications and she is doing well at FIU.

Roosevelt’s Rescue

Roosevelt is a resilient young man of 20 years who – despite a very difficult childhood – has persevered with determination to have a better life than the one he was born into. Roosevelt is the youngest of four African American children born to a mother who struggled with addiction her entire life. The life he shared with his siblings was fraught with constant fear that their mother might not return from the local bar she frequented at night; that one of her many “boyfriends” would seriously injure or kill his mother or one of the children in one of many violence-filled fights; or that they might not have food to eat. With the love and loyalty of his older siblings, he survived. For example, when they had no clean clothes to wear to school, they would put them in the bathtub, pour in dish detergent and water, and dance around inside the tub to wash their clothes. Unfortunately, they often had to wear their still-wet clothes the next day.

At age nine, he and his siblings were placed in foster care for 18 months before their grandmother took them in. At the time there was no child advocacy for children placed with relatives and their case was closed. Sadly, Roosevelt’s grandmother was abusive. Not only did she beat him and his siblings until they were bruised and bloody, she also denied them access to food and – as Roosevelt claims was the worst of her punishments – she denied them access to their mother. After six years of abuse, Roosevelt’s grandmother threw him out of her house at the age of 17. This turned out to be a great blessing as his case was reopened and he was assigned to the GAL Program. According to Roosevelt, his GAL advocate not only helped him to get the clothes, anger-management counseling, and other things and services he needed to thrive, but also helped him so that, despite her need for addiction treatment, his mother could prove to the court that she loved him, she was a fit if limited parent, and that he should live with her, as was his desire.

With on-going assistance from his GAL advocate and Voices’ Children’s Needs (CN) Program, Roosevelt received a bed and other furniture plus funds for food, clothing, and after school activities that his mother could not provide for him. Roosevelt observed his court proceedings and determined that it was the attorneys who had the most power to influence outcomes for the children there. Thus, he decided that somehow, he was going to succeed in school, attend college, and go to law school. With his advocate’s consistent care and encouragement, he built a network of friends and was set up to receive the Road to Independence stipend so that he could attend college.

Roosevelt gained so much confidence as a result of his relationship with his Guardian ad Litem advocate and the scholarship and other support that he has received from Voices’ It Takes a Village (ITAV) Program (part of Voices’ Children’s Needs Program) that he spoke at Voices For Children Foundation’s annual Be A Voice, Build a Dream Gala at Mandarin Oriental, Miami on January 14th, 2012. Now a sophomore at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU), Roosevelt has a 3.4 GPA and looks forward to completing his Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice in 2015. Planning to begin law school the following fall, Roosevelt’s vision – which he is resolute about since he completed a brief paid internship at the Pittman Law Firm this past summer – is to become an attorney so that he can advocate for other children in the dependency system. He is committed to being able to help other kids to succeed in life…as he himself is doing!

The Only Mother He Ever Knew

James, born cocaine-exposed, was two months old when the Department of Children and Families (DCF) placed him in the loving arms of Geraldine Scott. Geraldine was a friend of the family who graciously provided a home for James and wanted to adopt him.

Two years later, arbitrarily and without warning DCF decided to remove James from Geraldine’s care.  In spite of her ability to raise four of her own children successfully, Geraldine was deemed unfit to raise James because she was poor.

Judge Cindy Lederman ordered DCF to return the child to the only mother he had ever known. DCF immediately appealed her decision and her authority to interfere in what they felt was within their sole discretion; the placement of children.

Fortunately for James, reinforcements arrived in the guise of child advocates. James was one of the lucky half of the kids in the dependency system with a Guardian ad Litem – a volunteer or staff person from the GAL Program who gets to know the child and his circumstances and makes recommendations to the judge as to what is in the child’s best interest. In this case, funding from Voices For Children afforded James with Staff Guardians who visited him in Geraldine’s home every month, and who knew the love that existed between what was mother and son – legal status notwithstanding.

The recommendations from Staff Guardians Amee Kauffman and Denise Lasarte consistently challenged and contradicted DCF. Their opposition was enhanced by the legal advocacy of GAL Staff Attorney Abbie Cuellar, a true champion for children like James.

On July 17, 2003, two years after DCF initially removed James, Geraldine was finally allowed to adopt James.  If not for the concerted efforts of the Guardian ad Litem Program, staff guardians Amee Kaufman and Denise Lasarte, Louis Reidenberg, a retired attorney from Minnesota who was lured back into service for this important cause, Sister Jeanne O’Laughlin of Barry University who provided Ms. Scott with employment, Sister Pam Millenbach who coordinated services for Geraldine and James, and the army of pro-bono attorneys who fought on his behalf, James would have been another victim of the dependency system.

One Last Christmas

The children came into care because the mother left her five children, who were between the ages of 10 and 2 years, at home alone while she went to work. One child was playing with matches and started a fire. Fire rescue was called and the children did not sustain harm. They were removed and placed with a non-relative. The parental rights of the father for three of the children previously were terminated while the other father was incarcerated.

The mother completed her case plan tasks and was reunited with her children. Shortly after reunification it was discovered that the youngest child, 3 years old at the time had brain cancer. The mother had to reduce her working hours to spend more time with her child who was actually dying and also to ensure she was at home when the others were out of school. As a result, the mother could not keep up with her rental payments and was about to be evicted. The family was also in need of food. It was through the intervention of Voices For Children, which generously assisted with the unpaid rent so the family was not evicted and was also provided with assistance for food.

Six months later, the 3 year old who was dying of cancer was being released from the hospital to be with her family to die peacefully at home. The mother had no clothes for the child to wear at home. Again, Voices For Children came to the rescue of the family and provided clothing vouchers. The child spent three months at home surrounded by her mother and siblings and died shortly after Christmas of 2008.

Many hold out hope that the Courts can protect children, but the stark reality of too many cases is too few resources. Undoubtedly, in this case without the efforts of the Guardian and the financial backing of Voices For Children, this family would not have spent their final Christmas with their youngest member surrounding her with their presence and love.

Choosing to be a Mother

This is the story of eight siblings and their struggle to stay together with the only family they have ever known.

Tina, the mother of these eight children, was in “the system” as a child herself.  At the age of 14, she lived on the streets and met the man who would become the father of her eight children; a man whose substance abuse problems and encounters with the law have prevented him from being a father to these children.

The Department of Children and Families intervened following an abuse report in which the father allegedly took his eldest son with him on a burglary spree. Additionally, this family of ten all lived in a hotel room, with reportedly one bed. As a result, the eight children were taken into custody and placed in six different foster homes.

A Staff Guardian was assigned to this case and worked overtime with the Department, Mother, Six foster homes and the Judge to ensure that while there is typically no communication amongst the foster homes, that these eight children not only be allowed daily telephone calls, but weekly visits with each other, and their mother.  The mother had a good chance of being reunited with her children, if only she would terminate her destructive relationship with their father, who continued to fail to complete any of the services offered to him.

After months of working with Tina, the Staff Guardian helped Tina recognize that she had to make a choice between this man and her children. She chose to be a mother to her children. Over the course of the year, Tina filed a restraining order against the father, set herself up in her own apartment, and recently was reunited with her eight children.  This family is still under the watchful eye of the department, but they are on their way, with their Guardian ad Litem advocating for their best interests.

It Takes One Advocate

This is the story of eight-year-old Samantha who was sexually abused by a man believed to be her step-dad.  Not only was Samantha’s mother uncooperative with the authorities, she sent her oldest 16-year-old daughter to Puerto Rico so that she would not be available to testify against the step-dad, who also sexually abused her.  As a result of her absence, criminal prosecution was not forthcoming.  Samantha and her three younger siblings, who were known to be the biological children of Samantha’s step-dad, were placed in foster care due to their mother’s failure to protect them.  When he was released from criminal court proceedings, reunification with his biological children was a feasible outcome.  During this process, it was discovered that the step-dad was in fact Samantha’s biological father, a discovery that now put the courts in a precarious legal quandary.  Naturally, Samantha, now being one of his biological children being considered for reunification, was terrified at the thought of being returned to her abuser.  It was only because of the perseverance, advocacy and investigative skills of Samantha’s Staff Guardian, that she was able to locate Samantha’s older sister in Puerto Rico and contacted her through an uncle.  With this new development, the criminal court case will be re-opened with the damaging testimony of Samantha’s older sister and the dependency courts can proceed with a Termination of Parental Rights as to the Father.  Samantha and her siblings will not be returned to the hands of a sexual offender.

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