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A triple treat of good news for the GALs

Senior Editor Regular News

A triple treat of good news for the GALs

Senior Editor

Alan Abramowitz, executive director of the Florida Guardian ad Litem Program, is one happy man for three big reasons.

First, Gov. Rick Scott approved the GAL’s entire $32 million budget for fiscal year 2012-13, with a 6 percent increase of $1.8 million over last year’s budget.

 Alan Abramowitz Secondly, the governor signed the law to allow GAL volunteers to transport children, viewed primarily as a safety issue so foster children may have private time with their GALs, which enhances rapport and communication.

And thirdly, the statewide GAL program won the 2012 Davis Productivity Eagle Award for “streamlining efficiencies to focus on commitment to children,” and there will be an awards ceremony June 1 in Tallahassee.

Abramowitz said the news has made him “elated,” and he used a lot of exclamation points in his memos to his staff when he told them the good news.

On the budget, Abramowitz wrote to his staff and volunteers on April 17: “I received a phone call earlier today from the Governor’s Office letting me know that our entire budget, including the additional $1.8 million nonrecurring contract dollars, will be signed into law. The governor has been very supportive throughout this legislative session and continues to support our program. His office wanted me to let you know he supports the great work you do for children every day. I also want to thank each and every one of you for your commitment to give every child a voice!”

Abramowitz, who also chairs the Bar’s Legal Needs of Children Committee, explained to the News : “The $1.8 million will primarily be used to recruit additional volunteers so more children can have representation and a volunteer child advocate. Just prior to session, we changed our request from requesting additional staff positions to contract dollars. We are extremely happy for the additional children that will have an advocate.”

The goal is to expand representation to children in foster care from about 65 percent to 75 percent, he said, even though, by law, every foster child is supposed to have a GAL.

“We will be reaching out to the private sector to look for matching dollars for the $1.8 million. We are going to be reaching out to the faith community for recruiting services and look for matching dollars to show the Legislature that we maximized the dollars through our public-private partnerships,” Abramowitz said.

“Also, we are looking to track increased representation with the dollars so at next session we can argue for making the dollars reoccurring.”

In July, Abramowitz said he will be presenting the “Balanced Scorecard” to the Children’s Cabinet, which charts outcomes by rating circuits based on specific issues the children brought up in “A Voice Heard.” (see story in April 1 News. )

“The goal is to have accountability in expanding our volunteer base and meeting the children’s needs,” Abramowitz said. “The Department of Children and Families is working with us to collect data on performance outcomes we can influence. The children have set the path for our strategic plan.”

Also, Gov. Scott signed the law to allow volunteers to transport children (SB 1960). (see story in April 1 News. )

“We are working with the Department of Highway Safety to get the driving records at no cost. We are developing guidelines for approval and standards,” Abramowitz said.

The Eagle Award, from Prudential-Davis Productivity Awards and Florida TaxWatch, was awarded to the GAL program for being a state program that “costs the least and benefits the most.”

“By utilizing over 16,000 volunteers over the past five years, committed staff working to support child advocacy, engaging nonprofits committed to supporting the program and the children, utilizing pro bono attorneys around the state, and in particular through the Legal Aid Society of the Orange County Bar Association, has saved the state millions of dollars,” according to the nomination letter.

“We have established a private/public partnership securing money with our local nonprofits; established an online portal for volunteers resulting in cost savings; and established an online training for programs and pro bono attorneys in free continuing legal education credits (CLEs).”

“Of the 533 nominations, there were only 16 nominations that received the prestigious Eagle Award,” Abramowitz wrote to his staff and volunteers. “And the Guardian ad Litem Program is one of them!”

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