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A volunteer willing to say ‘I am for the child’

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A volunteer willing to say ‘I am for the child’

To join 8,000 volunteer guardians ad litem in Florida, you must be willing to open up your heart to abused and neglected children. You must agree that it’s a human rights issue that that foster child’s voice needs to be heard. After listening to that child, you must help the judge in dependency court understand what’s in the child’s best interest.

Even though it is statutorily mandated that every abused and neglected child have a guardian ad litem, the reality is that 10,000 out of more than 32,000 foster children still have no voice in Florida’s courts.

“These children have lots of needs. The studies have shown you get better outcomes with children when you have an advocate,” said Alan Abramowitz, executive director of the statewide GAL program.

“What we’re seeing is a force out there throughout the state that’s willing to step forward. We need to reach out to them. That’s why the whole ‘I Am for the Child’ campaign is really there to allow people to do what in their heart they want to do, and that is to be there for a child who has no one.”

Amy Goldin is one such GAL volunteer. She’s a solo real estate law practitioner in Plantation and a mother of 17-year-old boy. She’s also a guardian ad litem to a 17-year-old young woman with a 2-year-old child of her own. In her spare time, she is trying to raise money and recruit volunteers for the GAL program.

She views her mission as urgent.

“In Broward County alone, we have over 700 children who need a guardian ad litem,” Goldin said. “It’s very scary. We don’t want to be one of those newspaper stories. I think it is a crisis.”

Horrific stories of abused and neglected children, she said, “are down the street and in our neighborhoods.”

When funding is tight for legal services, she said that’s when the 501(c)(3)’s become even more important. She was in Tallahassee trying to raise $40,000 for one of 25 nonprofit charitable organizations where the money goes directly to the GAL program to help with training, volunteer recognition ceremonies, toys, summer camp fees, and anything else to help the children the GALs serve.

Besides searching for contributions of money, Goldin is looking for attorneys willing to volunteer as GALs.

“I worked at Carlton Fields in Tampa, so I know the pressure of hours,” she said. “I go out and talk to attorneys in firms, and that’s a big problem, the time constraint. Young people are eager to step in and help, but they feel the time pressure with billable hours. What I tell them is, ‘Other than going to court ­— which is a time set — you can be very flexible with your time.’”

She visits her own GAL client after 5:30 on Fridays and on the weekends. Talking to her teachers, guidance counselors, and case workers is mostly done over the phone.

Goldin has found that judges try to be flexible.

“The judges always have listened to me and the program’s advice. They want you to attend these hearings. If you say, ‘I can’t make it at 9 in the morning, because I have a conflict with another hearing,’ they will try to work with you,” Goldin said.

Employers do need to support the GAL leaving the office for those court hearings.

But, Goldin said: “I don’t think people should be concerned this is going to be a second job, because it’s not. And a lot of lawyers have specialty experience or backgrounds in immigration law or certain specific issues that we need help with. They may not want to be a GAL, but they are willing to help us out on specific cases. That’s something we are interested in, as well.”

“Everybody can do something, and there’s something for everyone,” Goldin said. “It’s about the kids. It’s about their human rights. They have a right to live. They have a right to prosper. They have a right to be hugged.”

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