Get to Know Guardian ad Litem Supervisor: Khalid Allahar
Twelve years ago while sitting in a constitutional law class, life as he knew it changed for Khalid Allahar. “My professor mentioned the Guardian ad Litem volunteer program and it sounded like an interesting opportunity,” says Allahar, whose plan at the time was to continue to law school. He began as a volunteer, overseeing seven children, and soon after two years moved on to a full-time position with the organization and never looked back. “It wasn’t in the plans,” he says, with a chuckle, regarding the decision to remain a Guardian ad Litem. “It was a really positive experience to see a different side of life that I wasn’t used to … it really opened my eyes.” We sat down with Allahar to learn more about Guardian ad Litem, the impact the program has on foster children and how one can get involved.
What’s your role with the Guardian ad Litem program?
Someone once described a Guardian ad Litem as a gate keeper of information and that stuck with me over the years I have been here. We are here for our youth when all others working in the dependency system are gone and we know everything about our youth and case we are given. I’m a Child Advocacy Manager. I supervise Guardian ad Litem volunteers and also visit children in the foster care system. As a Guardian ad Litem, we represent the best interest of children in foster care. We are the voice for the children in the dependency system and in the courtroom when that child is not able to do so themselves.
How long have you been part of the program?
I began in 2003 as a volunteer and started full time in 2005. The difference is that as staff, in addition to visiting or representing children, you are also providing support to volunteers, liaising with the courts and agencies and ensuring compliance with Florida Statutes. As a volunteer we are able to spend one-on-one time with the child and get to know their problems and wishes so that way we can become their voice in the courtroom.
What’s your workload like these days?
We have thousands of children in the dependency system. Currently I have 85 children that I oversee, about 20 who I visit personally. The other 65 children are represented by volunteer advocates who visit the children in their case. I am here to support our volunteers efforts and provide them with access to resources in the community that will help provide permanency to the children we represent.
What exactly does a volunteer do on house visits?
Volunteers have access to all of their assigned children’s personal documents and the ability to visit that child in school, doctor’s offices, and at their home. Be that home a foster home, shelter placement or at home with their parents or relatives. Volunteers come to the child placement and talk to the child about how they are doing and talk to the caretakers in the home about how the child is progressing. Volunteers look around the home to assure all of the child/children’s needs are being met, assure there is food in the home, see if the home is clean, and mainly spend time with the child they are there to represent. If we visit the child in school, we pull their grades and attendance records to assure they are attending and if available, we talk to their teachers to see if there any needs for the youth. If there are needs for the youth that are not being met, a volunteer will contact their supervisor and we will all address the issues with the department and judge in the court.
How did you go from volunteering to working full time for the Guardian ad Litem program?
I worked full time in my family business, attending university and volunteering. I wanted some more experience with the program and when I learned they were hiring, I contacted my supervisor at the time and told her I was interested. It was not soon after that I was hired and started working with more kids that I could handle. My first day on the job I had 75 children and young adults to represent each month. I was going to work here for a year and leave; 10 years later I’m still here…I’ve been a guardian for 12 years now. It is a very rewarding program.
What’s a typical day like for you?
It varies. I try to plan my day out but something always comes up. There’s always an emergency—a child gets removed [from the home] or a child runs away—and you have to put your schedule on hold. Today, for instance, I’m in trial so I’m on hold until this afternoon. Usually, we have some court case to attend, or a staffing to conduct in the morning. All of our activities involve making sure the children we represent find some form of permanency. Then I start visiting children in their home when they get home from school. Our work day can go from 8am to 8pm as most of our youth are home in the afternoon. Then we have some days where we are done with our goals for the day and get to go home at a decent time.
Tell us a little about what you do as a Guardian in court.
As a Guardian in court we represent the best interest of children, not their implied wishes. A child may want to go back to an abusive parent, but as Guardians we have to see past what the child wants and make the tough recommendations of what is in the best interest of that child. As a Guardian, you know everything that goes on with a case. For instance, I’ve been on a case for 11 years now. He was 4 when I got him and is now 15 and I can’t remember how many caseworkers we have gone through who do not know his life story or situations or why he is the kid he is today. So we are there to inform the new caseworker and inform the judge. The Guardian ad Litem is one consistent program that’s always there. We even help find homes for our kids through simply talking to the children and families we are involved with. The ultimate goal is to either get kids back with their parents or adopted by a relative or foster parent.
How do you go about bringing normalcy to the lives of so many children?
Our dependency system is geared toward providing normalcy for our foster youth. This was not always the case. Children in the system need to be treated like children who are not in the system. That is from being able to go to the neighbor’s house to play with their new friend, going on field trips, attending camps, going to prom or learning how to drive. We do our best to access community resources. If we need some special items for a family or a child in our case and the agency is not able to help, we have Voices for Children to help us assist children and families we represent. Their financial assistance help provide some normalcy to the children we represent.
Would you say that’s the most rewarding aspect of what you do?
The most rewarding is seeing a child get adopted. We just had a young adult who’s 17 and turning 18 in January, get adopted. The agency was treating him like any case in the system, just a number to be pushed out and move on to the next one. The GAL on this case put a hold on the agency’s push to close a case and helped provide a more permanent solution for him. We made it happen quickly and now he has a family; a father who he can call “Dad.” It’s up to us to push it through.
What advice would you give someone considering becoming a Guardian ad Litem?
Come to a free training session and hear what the program is about. You will have lots of support and a team of people behind you to help. It’s definitely rewarding. You make some important decisions in these kids’ lives. We all grew up with someone giving us advice. These youth want guidance and you have the power to be a positive influence in their lives.