Dear Guardian ad Litem Volunteers, Staff, Youth, and Supporters:
Decades ago, when the federal government decided to provide advocates to children in abuse and neglect proceedings, it endorsed a model where citizens could bring a common-sense perspective to court proceedings and children wouldn’t be treated as just another case number. Judges needed people to give them information and a view of the case from the child’s perspective, independent of the demands of an entire child protection system, its funding stream and resource challenges, and overwhelming caseloads. Children needed advocates who prioritized their safety and well-being – people who put the child’s best interests first. This was the start of Guardian ad Litem.
In Florida, this model has flourished due to the consistent support of citizens, the judiciary, governors, state and local governments, and charitable organizations. Networks of individual volunteers grew into circuit Guardian ad Litem Programs. As federal and state agencies made recommendations to improve child welfare practice and representation of children, the Guardian ad Litem Programs adapted. Advocacy by lay people evolved into representation by multi-disciplinary teams with a lawyer for every child. The training for advocates continues to become more and more sophisticated, and now includes a comprehensive curriculum on topics from child development to trauma informed care to suicide awareness. Today more than ten thousand volunteers work with Program staff to make sure children have independent advocates in dependency proceedings.
We are continuing to evolve, improve our advocacy, and work to reach more children. These Standards of Operation are part of that effort. I hope the Standards will be a useful tool for all of us in our commitment to providing high quality representation and best interests advocacy to Florida’s abused, abandoned, and neglected children.
Alan F. Abramowitz
Florida Guardian ad Litem Program