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A vehicle for better advocacy

GALs now permitted to transport kids in their cars

Senior Editor

“My wife says she only learns what’s going on with the kids when she’s in the car. Otherwise they won’t talk to her,” Alan Abramowitz said with a laugh.

But as executive director of the Florida Guardian ad Litem Program, he considers allowing volunteers to transport kids in their cars a serious matter of safety for abused and neglected children.

Alan Abramowitz “A volunteer in California who works for us now said a child disclosed they were being raped in a foster home,” Abramowitz said. “And she said, ‘I never would have known that if I hadn’t been alone with her in the car, and she trusted me.’

“My view is, safety is the primary reason. I think it protects kids. When they trust you, they will talk to you. And when they talk to you, they will disclose things. The second reason why is normalcy.”

In a report dedicated to Sen. Nan Rich, D-Sunrise, one of the earliest supporters of the GAL program, Abramowitz said he agrees with recommendations to expand the Transportation Pilot Project of June 2011 to all circuits, because the pilot “has met the original goals intended of child safety, improved communications, a sense of normalcy, volunteer empowerment, and volunteer retention.”

That follows the recommendations made by Jane Soltis, 2011 Child Advocate of the Year, who evaluated the pilot.

This year, legislation — SB 1960, in lines 268 to 272 — recognizes the GAL Program’s authority to transport children. However, no volunteer will ever be required or pressured to participate in transporting a child, and no judge can order it.

“I didn’t want a situation where the volunteer didn’t want to. They have to do it from their own hearts. You’re not a lesser volunteer because you don’t want to do it,” Abramowitz said. “Is it in the best interest of the child? Yes.”

He tells the story of a volunteer GAL in the Fifth Judicial Circuit who has an autistic child living in a group home who wasn’t able to get out much.

“He’s been taking the kid to a park a lot, four hours at a time. The kid is an older kid. His therapist says this kid is like a new kid,” Abramowitz said.

“The volunteer sent me a video of the kid climbing a tree. It’s very emotional to see what’s happening out there, when these children have someone. And you need to transport them to be able to do these things.”

Abramowitz is a GAL for a 17-year-old college student, who lives in a group home where the big entertainment offering is G-rated movies.

“I wanted him to be able to date. He’s in a group home. It’s a little difficult. That’s all I thought about when I was 17,” Abramowitz said.

The young man loves music, and hinted he would love to go to a concert.

Abramowitz brought that up at a staffing, and a 501(c)(3) paid for the tickets.

“If I’m a volunteer, I can go to them for help so the child can feel normal. Sometimes, it’s a ticket to something; it could be a prom dress or membership in a club.

“We brought it up, and everyone was receptive to it. I think the advocacy for this child was getting everyone around the table and saying, ‘Let’s let him be a normal kid.’ And everyone agreed.”

So Abramowitz picked up his kid in his car, they grabbed lunch, and went to the concert at Tallahassee’s civic center.

“He loved it,” Abramowitz said. “I didn’t understand one word during the concert because it was so loud, but I enjoyed watching him have his first concert experience. It really gave him a typical normal teenage experience that he will never forget.”

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