Response to Florida Dependency Article
While I am appreciative of Gurjot Kaur’s efforts to bring the issue of children in Florida’s dependency system to Florida Bar Journal readers (“A Case of Neglect? Representation for Children in the Florida Dependency System,” June 2013), I feel compelled to address some of the points in her article as she presents a misleading and incorrect characterization of Florida’s dependency system and the Guardian ad Litem (GAL) Program.
The GAL Program’s mission is to represent the best interests of the children we serve through a model that includes an attorney working with the GAL volunteer to effectively advocate for every child’s best interest. This best interest model is the most common, with 30 states utilizing it. According to numerous reports, a child with a GAL is more likely to have a safe, permanent home and receive more assistance while in the dependency system.* Florida’s GAL Program has proved effective with national recognition and is the repeat recipient of the Prudential Davis Productivity Award Program and the National Angel in Adoption Award by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.
As proof of Florida’s “neglect,” Ms. Kaur cites Florida’s failing grade in the First Star Report. The First Star Report gives an “A+” grade to those states requiring attorneys for children and an “F” grade to those states that do not require appointment of an attorney for children. This methodology is flawed as there is no consideration of actual outcomes for children or whether the statutory mandate is met by an attorney being appointed. When looking at how dependent children are actually doing in these states, Florida (an “F” state) is doing better than all three of First Star’s top “A+” states.** Florida beats all three A+ Star Report states in:
• Length of time in foster care;
• Timeliness of adoptions;
• Time to reunification; and
• Florida has the lowest number of children placed in group homes or institutional settings.
The GAL Program is not against attorney representation and believes there are instances when client-directed representation is the most appropriate. This year, the GAL Program supported the legislature’s allocation of $343,000 for Attorney ad Litem (AAL) appointments for children being considered for placement or being placed in nursing homes. As always, judges have the discretion to appoint AALs in any case they deem appropriate. It is often the GAL program that finds pro bono attorneys or funds AALs when appointed by the court. Over the past year the GAL Program has increased AAL funding by 10 percent (2011-2012). The GAL Program believes that Florida’s children are best served when we all work together on their behalf.
Alan Abramowitz, Executive Director, Guardian ad Litem Program
* Reports available are too numerous to list for this brief response, but the Statewide Guardian ad Litem Program can provide them by request or by visiting www.guardianadlitem.org.
** Data from Children’s Bureau, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Child Welfare Outcome 2007-2010 Report to Congress (2012).
What Happened to Comic Relief?
What has happened to the often hilarious cartoons that used to grace the pages of FBJ? It seems I haven’t seen any cartoons in awhile. Has FBJ discontinued this welcome “comic relief”? My personal favorite, which I saved, is an attorney standing with his penguin client in front of the bench at a bond hearing where he is advising the judge that his client (the penguin) is “not a flight risk.”
Judge Janice Law, Houston, Texas