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‘FAWL in love with GAL’

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Program provides mentors to girls who are aging out of the foster care system

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Guardian ad Litem Program administrators are designing a guidance system for foster teens that is powered almost exclusively by women lawyers.

When it’s fully operational, the “FAWL in love with GAL” program will help girls who are aging out of foster care navigate the real world.

In social service and legal parlance, it’s a “pro bono mentoring initiative” that draws on the expertise of the Guardian ad Litem Program and the Florida Association for Women Lawyers.

Thomasina Moore“We want to give these youth the same chance at success other people have had by providing a mentor for the nearly 1,000 teenage girls that are close to aging out of foster care without a permanent home,” said Thomasina Moore, director of the statewide GAL Pro Bono Initiatives.

Moore says the program is built on the concept of “episodic mentoring.”

“It’s the notion that mentees can learn a great deal from mentors in as little as 20 minutes a month,” Moore said. “It offers the foster youth, many of whom will soon be on their own, the advantage of learning how to ask questions and to hold conversations to promote their own development, empowering them for the future.”

According to Moore, mentors will act as counselors and advisors by working with a GAL pro bono attorney liaison who is responsible for the assignment of cases and supporting the pro bono attorney.

Pro bono attorneys will be asked to mentor at least one foster youth placed in the attorney’s geographic region, and the attorney will determine the time and location of the face-to-face meetings. GAL volunteers will deliver mentees to their mentors.

Moore says mentors will work with members of the child’s GAL team, including a child advocate manager, to identify the youth’s needs and create a plan for meeting them.

The GAL program is offering participants free CLE training that includes information about dependency law and practice, bias elimination, independent living and foster care outcomes. The training includes two hours of Ethics and one hour of Bias Elimination credits.

More information is available on FAWL’s website at https://fawl.memberclicks.net/fawl-in-love-with-gal/.

Training began May 2, and 52 volunteers have completed the course, Moore said. Another 100 volunteers have formally expressed an interest, Moore said.

A “GAL/FAWL Tour” of law schools across the state is also being planned, Moore said.

“I anticipate high interest in those,” Moore said.

Jennifer Shoaf Richardson FAWL President Jennifer Shoaf Richardson considers the program a rare opportunity, however brief, to step away from your everyday practice and to start counting blessings.

“Anybody who has participated in a mentoring program will tell you that the mentor gets much more out of it than the mentee,” she said. “Because you just step back and remember how lucky you are, and that you do have things that you can share that will improve the lives of children who need guidance.”

She stresses that the program does not require FAWL members to become legal guardians, and it’s designed to accommodate their busy schedules. Mentoring is a natural fit with FAWL’s stated mission, Richardson said.

“Our mission is for the advancement and promotion of gender equality in three different areas, the legal profession, the judiciary and the community at large,” she said. “This is especially on target for our community-at-large prong.”