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‘A Voice Heard’

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‘A Voice Heard’

Senior Editor

Throwing a birthday party for a girl who’s never had one before.

Cheering from the stands as a boy scores in a basketball game.

Laughing at a child’s jokes.

Helping a teen get a driver’s license.

Showing a kindergartner how to tie her shoelaces.

Taking a foster kid from a group home to a park, just to listen.

During his two decades of advocating for children, Alan Abramowitz, executive director of the Florida Guardian ad Litem Program, said he has learned that the most important skill in child advocacy is listening.

‘I am for the child who is afraid to go home.’ “The best person to fight for their child is the parent. Well, in these situations, there’s no parent to do it. What makes a parent good? They care about the child. They do homework with the child. They help the child. They are role models for the child. And they listen to the child. We want guardians ad litem to do the same thing,” Abramowitz said.

Clearly, the role of a guardian ad litem has expanded beyond the courtroom as an advocate for children in dependency court. As Abramowitz explained, in 1997, when the GAL program was under the court, the court took the position that GAL volunteers were prohibited from providing services and were focused on meeting the courts’ needs.

“I’m interested in the child. And as we focus on the child, we’ll become better advocates for the court,” Abramowitz said. “I’m treating it not as a direct line to the court, but a better line to the child so we can do a better job.”

As GAL volunteer Bonnie Marmor, who has a Ph.D. in strategic planning, writes in this year’s status report: “The GAL volunteer often becomes a role model, a mentor, an educational surrogate, a friend, a confidant, and most important, a consistent caring person on whom the child(ren) can rely.”

Marmor led a project in six circuits where GAL volunteers asked their clients — 152 elementary, middle-school, high-school, and aged-out foster kids — questions about their GAL experiences, with the goals of helping volunteers gain a better understanding of the children they represent and allowing foster children to advise and guide the direction of the program.

“It makes me realize how important our corps of volunteers is. Although I may have my own cases, others have far more serious issues than I have,” Marmor said. “There are volunteers who are so special, so dedicated, so committed to making sure that the right things are done for the right reason.”

“A Voice Heard” — the simple, poignant title of the report — was supplied by former foster youth Brian Williams, recently accepted into the Fostering Achievement Fellowship Program at Tallahassee Community College.

Here’s a sampling of those voices heard:

What is the most important thing I do to help you?

“You helped me.. . get new glasses when I couldn’t see the board,” answered one K-5 student.

“(You) help me understand and answer questions I have about why my dad and brother and mom are the way they are,” answered a middle-school student.

“It’s already been done.. . I am aging out with a life, a job, and a new family,” answers a high-school student.

If there was one thing you could wish for today, what would it be?

“I already got my wish. . . to come home,” an 11-year-old happily reported.

What other things would you like me to do for you?

“I want you to be able to see me forever, or at least until I get married,” a 13-year-old told her GAL.

Why do you think I come to see you?

“To make sure I don’t get hurt,” a K-5 child told the GAL.

“Because you think I am a real neat kid — you tell me that a lot,” another child said.

If you were a GAL, is there anything special you would do for the person you visit?

One 17-year-old said she’d “ensure that the kids got to keep their pets.” When police first arrived at her home, her precious declawed Himalayan cat escaped through an open door and the girl was not allowed to look for the cat that she feared would not survive outside. After 10 months, the girl is still mourning the loss of her pet, said her GAL volunteer.

What would you have liked your GAL to do that he or she did not do?

“It would have been nice if my GAL could have transported me. If so, I wouldn’t have missed my aunt’s memorial service. I asked my GAL to take me that Sunday, but she said she would have liked to but she couldn’t because she wasn’t allowed to transport. It was the weekend and the group home ran on what they called a ‘skeleton crew,’ so I missed the memorial service. I just always knew that my GAL would have done things like that for me if she had been allowed to.”
(See story sidebar here .)

“Stay in my life instead of just disappearing,” said a former foster youth, ages 18-23.

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