Now Accepting Proposals for the 2018 Disabilities Training Conference

2018 Florida Guardian ad Litem Disabilities Training Conference  Each year the Florida Guardian ad Litem Program holds a training conference for child welfare attorneys, child welfare professionals, private attorneys, and judges who represent and work with dependent children with disabilities.This popular conference is known for its advanced material and workshops. The Florida Guardian ad Litem […]

Adoption Bill

Adoption Bill SB 774 – Sponsor Senator Aaron Bean Adoption Bill HB 505 – Sponsor Representative Rick Roth Talking Points – SB 774 & HB 505  

Incarcerated Parents

An Act related to Incarcerated Parents – SB 522: Sponsor Senator Aaron Bean  An Act related to Incarcerated Parents – HB 281: Sponsor Representative Patricia Williams Talking Points – Engaging Incarcerated Parents House Children, Families & Seniors Subcommittee, November 8, 2017 – Representative Patricia Williams presents Incarcerated Parents Bill

Pro Bono Matters

Pro Bono Matters Act of 2018 – SB 146 Sponsor: Senator Aaron Bean Pro Bono Matters Act of 2018 – HB 57 Sponsor: Representative Frank White Putting ‘Florida Bar Pro Bono Matters’ Into Action for Children with Special Needs Bill would pay court costs for pro bono lawyers for special needs kids Senate Judiciary Committee, […]

Audrey Schiebler Volunteer of the Year Award – Christine Hoyne

The GAL Program’s Audrey Schiebler Volunteer of the Year Award is a superlative without comparison!  Florida’s GAL Program has the most caring, dedicated, and creative volunteers whose excellence in advocacy is literally life-altering for children. At the top of these ranks this year is Christine Hoyne from the 16th Circuit. Christine exemplifies the best of the GAL […]

Circuit Team Award – Vince Rieger, Pat Smith, Pam Peterson, & Kari Marsland-Petit

Team advocacy for the child’s best interests is the hallmark of the GAL Program, and the work of Circuit 6 team – Vince Rieger (Volunteer), Pat Smith (Volunteer), Pam Peterson (Child Advocate Manager), and Kari Marsland-Petit (Best Interests Attorney). They demonstrate why this collaboration is so important for children. Pat and Pam were assigned a […]

Angela Orkin Dedication Award – Karen Orchowski

Karen’s talent for streamlining information, attention to detail, and her willingness to help others made her an obvious choice for the Angela Orkin Dedication Award! Having accurate, up-to-date information about the children the Program represents is crucial to effective advocacy, and Karen’s incredible work with Optima has had a positive impact on representation statewide. She […]

Executive Director Award – Meliza Frias

Tireless, tenacious advocacy is what won Meliza Frias the Executive Director Award! Meliza is a passionate advocate for all the children she represents, and this commitment was highlighted in a case that started in 2013 involving 4 children from one family separated in different group homes. Meliza was determined to get the children back together […]

Leadership Award – Susan Somers

Leadership, integrity and innovation in attaining GAL goals and objectives – these are the hallmarks of the Leadership Award.  This year, the Program proudly awards it to Susan Somers! Susan does a wonderful job of managing the large network of attorneys in the 11th circuit. She has done a great job transitioning from sharing the […]

Barbra Sessa Award – Janet Anderson

The GAL Program celebrates Janet Anderson for winning this year’s Barbra Sessa Award. Janet’s passion for and connection with the children she represents makes her a stand-out in her circuit. If Janet is not in court or busily working away at her computer, she is on the phone with volunteers or talking to the children […]

Daniel P. Dawson Award – Natalee Hamilton

The GAL Program is honored to award Natalee Hamilton, Senior Child’s Best Interest Attorney in Circuit 19, the Judge Dawson Award. In her nomination, Natalee was described as enthusiastic, dedicated, and passionate. Her supreme knowledge of the law and world-class courtroom skills are some of the things that inspired her colleagues to submit her name.  In […]

Competency: No violation of due process in conducting TPR trial against incompetent parent

A.M. v. Department of Children and Families, 2017WL3085350 (Fla. 4th DCA) In this appeal of an order terminating mother’s parental rights, the Fourth DCA extended its previous holding that conducting a dependency adjudication against an incompetent parent does not violate due process, to a termination trial where the mother’s mental health was the core issue […]

Motion for Reunification Requires an Evidentiary Hearing: Mother was entitled to an evidentiary hearing on her motion for reunification with dependent child before court granted Department of Children and Families’ motion to terminate protective services

J.G. v. Department of Children and Families, 220 So.3d 555 (2017) The Department of Children and Families filed motion to terminate protective supervision as to child, who was in the custody of her non-offending father, and the Mother filed a motion for reunification, asserting that she had completed her case plan services. Without conducting a […]

Implied Consent to Termination Petition: Trial court erred in denying motion to vacate implied consent on unique facts of the case

T.H. v. Department of Children and Families, 2017WL2960589, 3D17-727 (Fla. 3d DCA Jul. 12, 2017) At the outset of the TPR trial, the Department moved for a continuance, which the court granted. The Department then asked the court to enter an implied consent against the father because of his failure to appear after proper notice. […]

Section 39.806(1)(i) and Required Findings in Court Order: Case remanded to the trial court to make required findings that reunification would be a substantial risk to the child

L.J. v. Department of Children and Families, 220 So.3d 557 (2017) The trial court entered a final judgment terminating father’s parental rights to the child pursuant to 39.806(1)(i) on the basis that he had rights to two other children terminated. The trial court’s order included findings as to each statutory factor, discussed the manifest best […]

Case Plan Amendment: Trial court departed from the essential requirements of law when it changed case plan goal from reunification to permanent guardianship without an adequate evidentiary basis

S.C.P. v. Department of Children and Families, 220 So.3d 1290 (2017) Only a few months after accepting a reunification case plan, the court changed the goal of mother’s case plan from reunification to permanent guardianship, despite finding the mother in compliance with her case plan. Noting that the rules and statutes contemplate an evidentiary basis […]

Error for trail court to modify permanency as to father who was not present at the hearing

T.B. v. Department of Children and Families, — So.3d —- (2017) After the parents substantially complied with their case plans, the trial court reunified as to both parents and set a judicial review hearing for six months later as required by section 39.701(1)(b), Fla. Stat. (2016). Shortly after reunification, but before the hearing, the father […]

Single Parent TPR: Reversal of order terminating father’s parental rights on appeal requires reversal of order terminating mother’s parental rights as well.

A.M.B. v. Department of Children and Families, — So.3d —- (2017) Both parent’s rights were terminated below, but order terminating father’s parental rights was reversed on appeal based on concession of error by Department of Children and Families. Following precedent set by the Second DCA, the First DCA held that order terminating mother’s rights must […]

Postdisposition Change of Custody: Order effectively granting reunification quashed where dependency court failed to apply proper statutory provisions, misconstrued the evidence and findings were not supported by competent substantial evidence.

In the Interest of I.N., a child. E.N., Petitioner, v…., — So.3d —- (2017) The Second DCA reversed a trial court’s order which “effectively reunified” a child with a father who is alleged to have sexually abused the child. The DCA found that the trial court departed from the essential requirements of law by failing […]

Always in need, guardians protect kids in the court system

Click here to read a great article by Patrice Russell from the Bradford County Telegraph-Union County Times. This article highlights Alachua, Bradford, Baker, Gilchrist, Levy, and Union counties discussing the work of the Guardian ad Litem Program as well as the local circuit’s nonprofit The Guardian Foundation, Inc.

QPI/GAL Interview

Guardian ad Litem Program Executive Director, Alan Abramowitz is interviewed by David Brown. David Brown is the Program Coordinator for Quality Parenting Initiative. Their interview discusses promoting the role of care givers and working together as a team. QPI/GAL Interview

Florida Bar News – GAL project aims to help children

Read how the the Florida Bar Pro Bono Committee Appellate Practice Section has partnered with the Guardian ad Litem Program on the Defending Best Interest Project. This project will allow more Florida attorneys to use their skills to defend the best interests of dependent children when challenged on appeal. GAL Project aims to help children

2017 Disabilities Training Conference Videos Available Now

This year over 450 attorneys, judges and child welfare professionals attended the Third Florida Guardian ad Litem Program Disabilities Training Conference. The keynote speakers and panels were inspiring thought provoking and gave us all tools to use in helping the children we work with every day. The workshops were wide ranging with presenters sharing their […]

Trial Court Order Remanded for Additional Findings

L.J. a/k/a/ M.L. v. Department of Children and Families, 2017 WL 2605106 (Fla 5th DCA) The trial court entered a final judgment terminating Father’s parental rights to his child, A.J., on the basis that father had rights to two other children terminated. The trial court’s order included findings as to each statutory factor under section […]

Modification of Visitation Order: Requires Proper Notice and a Proof of a Substantial Change in Material Circumstances and that Modification is Required to Protect the Child’s Best Interests

Florida Department of Children and Families, v. P.I., the Mother, and M.H., the Father, 2017 WL 2265372 (Fla. 3d DCA) At the shelter hearing, the court ordered no contact with the parents based on explicit findings of “egregious physical abuse” by the mother and “failure to protect” by the father. The children were placed in […]

Admission of Evidence: No Abuse of Discretion in Denying Untimely Request for Expert Witness Testimony

K.A. v. Department of Children and Families, 2017WL1494002 (Fla. 3d DCA) The mother appealed from the trial court’s order terminating her parental rights. She argued the court erred in denying her right to present expert testimony regarding her psychological issues and returning children to the father, despite alleged domestic violence incidents. The Third DCA affirmed. […]

Statute of Limitations For Negligence Claims: Appointment of GAL in Dependency Case Should Not Extinguish Children’s Causes of Action

D.H. by and through R.H. v. Adept Community Services, Inc., 2017 WL 1277741 (Fla. 2d DCA) The children were born to a developmentally disabled mother. The mother received in-home support under a Medicaid program. The services were intended to help her live on her own and care for the children. The services failed to meet […]

ICPC: Juvenile Court Not Authorized to Relinquish Jurisdiction over Children Prior to Complying with ICPC Home Study Requirement

State Department of Children and Families v. M.A., 215 So.3d 1276 (2017) The children were adjudicated dependent and placed with the maternal grandmother. The father was not a party to the dependency action. In seeking to obtain custody of his children and relocate them to his home in Indiana, the father requested a home study […]

Paternity: Biological Father of Child Born to Intact Marriage Has Extremely Limited Rights and a “Casual Interest in Fatherhood” Found Insufficient To Trigger Constitutional Protection

M.L. v. Department of Children and Families, 2017WL1718807 (Fla. 4th DCA) The putative father filed a motion to intervene in a TPR proceeding where child was born into an existing marriage. Although the putative father was named on the child’s birth certificate and he was present at the shelter hearing, he waited 18 months to […]

Guardian ad Litem’s “Defending Best Interests Project” on fast track for lawyers to help children pro bono

The Statewide Guardian ad Litem Program is pleased to announce its latest pro bono initiative, the “Defending Best Interests Project” which will allow more Florida attorneys to use their skills to defend the best interests of dependent children when challenged on appeal. In dependency court, it is a fundamental principle that the child’s best interests […]

Florida Guardian ad Litem Awarded $40,000 Youth Advocacy Grant

[Tallahassee, Florida] –  The Florida Statewide Guardian ad Litem Program has been chosen for a 2017 National CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) Association Youth Advocacy Grant aimed at improving outcomes for the state’s abused and neglected children. This is the second year the Florida Statewide Guardian ad Litem (GAL) Program has won the $40,000 grant […]

Procedures for Ineffective Assistance of Counsel Claims

This Supreme Court decision establishes new procedures for ineffective assistance of counsel claims for termination of parental rights proceedings. In Re: Amendments to Florida Rules of Juvenile Procedure and Florida Rule of Appellate Procedure 9.146, 2017 WL 1090564 (Fla.) In 2015, the Supreme Court established interim procedures for bringing ineffective assistance of counsel claims following […]

Case Plan Compliance

J.S. v. Department of Children and Families, 2017 WL 902184 (Fla. 5th DCA)  Mother appealed termination of her parental rights based solely upon her failure to follow a case plan.  The children were originally removed from Mother due to domestic violence.  Four months before the termination of parental rights trial, random drug tests and substance […]

Statutory Grounds for Termination of Parental Rights

If a trial court’s ruling on one of the statutory grounds for termination of parental rights is supported by clear and convincing evidence, the court’s order terminating parental rights is affirmable.  D.H. v. Department of Children and Families, 2017 WL 728063 (Fla. 5th DCA) Mother appealed termination of her parental rights.  The Fifth District Court […]

Statute of Limitations for Negligence Claims

D.H. by and through R.H. v. Adept Community Services, Inc., 2017 WL 1277741 (Fla. 2nd DCA) The Second District Court of Appeal (Second DCA) affirmed summary judgment in a negligence case filed by grandparents on behalf of their previously dependent children holding the trial court correctly found the case was initiated outside the statute of […]

Evidence – Supreme Court Declined to Adopt the Daubert Amendment

In Re: Amendments to the Florida Evidence Code, 2017 WL 6337700 (Fla.) The Supreme Court of Florida declined to adopt several legislative amendments, including an amendment (Daubert Amendment) replacing the Frye standard for admitting expert opinion evidence with the Daubert standard. The Daubert Amendment amended Florida Statutes § 90.702 and 90.704 (2012) and changed the […]

Parental Drug Use as a Basis for Dependency

M.S.v. Department of Children and Families, 2017 WL 456892 (Fla. 5th DCA)   Father appealed an adjudication order, which found his children dependent based on his recent drug-related arrests. No evidence was presented as to the circumstances of the arrests or how the arrests harmed the children. The Fifth DCA found evidence of drug use […]

Immigration – Determination of Dependency

M.P.L. v. Department of Children and Families, 2017 WL 192024 (Fla. 4th DCA) Establishing dependency based on being a child with “no parent or legal custodians capable of providing supervision and care.” § 39.01(15)(e), Fla. Stat. (2015) Judge Forst’s dissent noted the textual discrepancy between Florida Statute § 39.01(15) (e), which limits a child’s caregiver to “parents […]

Witness Testimony – Right to Confront Witness

S.D. v. Department of Children and Families, 2017 WL 52636 (Fla. 3rd DCA) Dependency proceedings are civil in nature. The constitutional right to confront witnesses does not apply. Father appealed termination of his parental rights based on his alleged lack of consent to a witness testifying via Skype, the lack of a notary to administer […]

Interpreting the S.M. Case – Least Restrictive Means

Guardian ad Litem Program v. Department of Children and Families, 2016 WL 7497280 (Fla. 5th DCA) This is the first district court case applying the least restrictive means test since it was recently clarified by the Supreme Court of Florida. S.M. v. Fla. Dep’t of Children and Families, 202 So. 3d 769, 778 (Fla. 2016). […]