Advocacy: A Voice in Court
Guardian ad Litem Program
The Guardian ad Litem volunteers and staff are the light that guides our children in foster care, serving as their voice in court to ensure their rights, needs, and permanency. Guardians ad Litem are comprised of a team of trained volunteers, attorneys, program supervisors, and program managers who represent foster children in court.
You can lend your voice by donating, volunteering for our Guardian Ad Litem program, or starting a conversation in your community. Without the funding that Voices raised each year, our local GAL program would only be able to cover less than 50% of the 1600 children in Miami-Dade. The Guardian ad Litem Office is a statewide program that recruits and trains volunteers to serve as a voice in court for abused, abandoned, and neglected children.
A Guardian ad Litem is a specially trained volunteer appointed by the court to protect and advocate for the best interest of a child involved in a court proceeding. They make independent recommendations to the court by focusing on the needs of each child.
Here is how Voices ensures every child has a voice in court:
- Voices For Children Foundation (Voices) currently provides over 54% of the funding needed to ensure the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem (GAL) Program is fully staffed and has the training and support needed to fulfil their mission of providing a voice in court for abused, abandoned and neglected children.
- In addition to the 59 staff positions provided to the Guardian ad Litem Program, Voices provides the basic needs, dignity items and experiences to help break the cycle of abuse and allow them to dream beyond their circumstances.
- Last year, Voices served over 1,500 Miami-Dade County dependent children, teens and young adults placed under the supervision of the Florida Department of Children & Families and Citrus Family Care Network.
Of the 58 staff positions Voices For Children provides to the Guardian ad Litem there are several specialists that work to find permanency for specific populations including:
Children 0-5 years
In an effort to decrease the time spent in foster care and increase sibling attachments for these youngest children. Exclusively focused on eliminating barriers to permanency, the permanency specialist identified and helped eliminate the obstacles that thwarted individual case managers’/social workers’ and attorneys’ progress. Infographic- In 2021-2022, the permanency specialist (PS) effectively expedited the achievement of permanency for 165 dependent children ages 0-5 years that had been in the child welfare system for 24 months or more.
Youth ages 16+
Building on the success of the permanency specialist described above, Voices secured funding and began implementing a similar approach to assisting youth “aging out” of the child welfare system. By adding the laser focus of an independent living specialist to the committed efforts by GAL advocates, the barriers to successfully transitioning to adulthood would be removed or mitigated while ensuring youth were educated about the benefits of extending foster care.
Thus, a full-time independent living specialist, also with extensive CWS experience and knowledge, was employed to exclusively focus on identifying and eliminating barriers that prevent 130 dependent youth ages 16 years and older from successfully creating and implementing an individualized transition plan to adulthood. Working with GAL staff advocates and volunteers, other CWS staff and various youth services organizations, the independent living specialist also ensured youth were informed about the benefits of extended foster care and were able to access all State entitlements, as appropriate. This past year Voices secured additional public and private funding to begin to provide incremental GAL Program staff salary increases to reduce staff turnover and safeguard the GAL Program’s representation of 100% of Miami-Dade’s dependent children.
Looking towards 2022-2023, Voices began making plans to deepen its programmatic impact and expand its capacity by adding to its team of highly competent and committed individuals. This will enable the organization to bring more attention to the needs of children represented by the GAL Program, to facilitate increased and more diverse financial support, to foster increased GAL volunteer recruitment and increase community awareness of and concern for dependent children.
In 2021-2022, the Guardian Ad Litem Program increased the number of dependent children that achieve permanency and continued to target children in the dependency system for more than the national average of 24 months.
- 98% of children whose cases were closed achieved permanency.
- A total of 111 newly certified Guardian Ad Litem volunteers were recruited, screened, trained and were assigned to represent dependent children in Miami-Dade County.
- 25 Guardian Ad Litem volunteers received training in the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children to enable them to effectively advocate for human trafficking victims.
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In 2021-2022, the Demographics of the 608 dependent children represented by the Guardian Ad Litem volunteers included 71% primarily ethnic minorities with 49% Hispanic; 14% Black, non-Hispanic; and 8% other/multi-ethnic. The remaining 29% were White, non-Hispanic.