Announcement of Attorney Awards for Excellence in Advocacy for Children with Special Needs

The Florida Guardian ad Litem (GAL) Program announced today that 21 attorneys were named as winners of the Program’s award for Excellence in Advocacy for special needs children who have been abused or neglected.  Alan Abramowitz, Executive Director, made the announcement noting that these attorneys had distinguished themselves in the courtroom as champions for children.

“These attorneys embody hard work, heart-felt advocacy, and commitment to collaboration in representing dependent children with special needs,” said 18th Circuit Judge Kelly J. McKibben.  “The children are victims of human trafficking, have a serious developmental disability, are on psychotropic medication or live in nursing homes or residential treatment centers, and these attorneys zealously represent their interests in court every day.”

Senator Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton) and Representative Erik Fresen (R-Miami) sponsored legislation requiring that five categories of dependent special needs children be appointed attorneys to represent their wishes before the court and in matters concerning care and treatment.  Governor Rick Scott signed the bill into law on June 25, 2014.  Florida’s 20 judicial circuits each have a registry of specially trained attorneys who perform this work.  Registry attorneys often work collaboratively with the Guardian ad Litem Program to see that children receive the services they are entitled to and to help them become part of a caring, permanent family before aging out of foster care.

This year, the GAL Program recognized one registry attorney from each of Florida’s judicial circuits, as well as one appeals attorney and one statewide winner.  Grainne O’Sullivan, Director of Children’s Legal Services for the Department of Children and Families, pointed out that, “the success of this effort depends on dedicated child welfare attorneys in every circuit who have joined the Special Needs Registry, and added their voice and their expertise to ensure these children find a safe, permanent home.”

When announcing the award, Alan Abramowitz said, “The Guardian ad Litem Program recognizes the great work attorneys on the Special Needs Registry perform in dependency courts across the state.  These attorneys are driven by their passion to make a difference in the life of a child with special needs.   Their impressive and dedicated representation of some of Florida’s most vulnerable dependent children is valued by not only the children they represent, but also by their peers who have recognized them for this award.”

Robert Latham, Esq. (Miami Dade), the State winner of the GAL Program’s Excellence in Advocacy award said, “I am honored and humbled to be this year’s statewide recipient of the Guardian ad Litem Program’s Excellence in Advocacy Award, which recognizes contributions to the child welfare system by attorneys for special needs children.  I am so grateful to be on the list with many attorneys who I call when I need help. These are really wonderful people who have devoted their lives to helping others, and this award recognizes the enormous value their work contributes to making life better for Florida’s families. I also commend the Legislature on creating the Attorneys for Special Needs Children registry, so that these highly vulnerable children and youth have their well-being promoted and rights protected legally as well as therapeutically and emotionally.”

Penny Martin, an award winner in the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit (Palm Beach), summed up the work of registry attorneys by saying, “Every child in our dependency system is so important.  It is especially rewarding to see some of these children, who have endured so many losses, and difficulties, do better and achieve greater results because of extra attention to their needs.”

2016 GAL Program’s Excellence in Advocacy Award Winners

Robert Latham Eleventh Circuit and Statewide Winner 

Susan Winterberger – First Circuit

Stephanie Johnson – Second Circuit

Heidi Kemph – Third Circuit

Connie Byrd – Fourth Circuit

Brenda Smith – Fifth Circuit

Bowdre McAllister – Sixth Circuit

Carol Kelley – Seventh Circuit

Nancy Wright – Eighth Circuit

Barbara Glass – Ninth Circuit

Deborah Wells – Tenth Circuit

C. Michael Kelly – Twelfth Circuit

Scott Horvat – Thirteenth Circuit

Lawrence Kranert, Jr. – Fourteenth Circuit

Penny Martin – Fifteenth Circuit

Richard F. Joyce – Sixteenth Circuit

Linda Singer – Seventeenth Circuit

Pamela Bress – Eighteenth Circuit

Crystal Marsh – Nineteenth Circuit

Kathy Bruno – Twentieth Circuit

Leonard Helfand – Appeals

To learn more about the Guardian ad Litem Program or to become a volunteer Guardian ad Litem visit or call 1-866-341-1GAL.