John Walsh’s Dec. 29 letter regarding representation of Florida’s dependent children in the context of the Rilya Wilson case stated that, “Rilya was represented by a volunteer who had a couple of weeks of training. That volunteer even had a lawyer paid for by the state. But no one had the direct responsibility to protect Rilya and her interests.”
Mr. Walsh has his facts wrong. Rilya went missing in January 2001 and a Guardian ad Litem (GAL) was not appointed until May 2002.
He paints an inaccurate picture of what happened in Rilya’s case and does a disservice to more than 8,000 certified Guardian ad Litem volunteers and children for whom they advocate. These volunteers are valuable voices for children who have been abused and neglected to ensure their needs are met.
The Rilya Wilson case-inspired 2002 Blue Ribbon Panel on Child Protection Report — created by then-Gov. Jeb Bush and chaired by David Lawrence Jr., former publisher of The Miami Herald, joined by child welfare experts Sara Herald, Carol Licko and Sister Jeanne O’Laughlin — made it clear that having a Guardian ad Litem for every child in the dependency system is the first priority.
The report states: “If there is any program that costs the least and benefits the most, this one is it. . . . Simply put, a Guardian Ad Litem is a court-certified adult who has completed a mandatory training course to become an advocate for a child’s best interests. These guardians are an indispensable intermediary between the child and the court, between the child and DCF . . . Florida’s goal should be — must be — that every child in state supervision have a Guardian Ad Litem.”
We have witnessed Guardians ad Litem competently protect the lives of children in court cases. Judges need the knowledge and perspective of the Guardian ad Litem to make decisions in a child’s best interest.
More than a decade ago at the time of the Rilya Wilson tragedy we didn’t have, and to this day, we do not have enough GALs for every child.
Those persons interested in being a voice for Florida’s dependent children can find more information at http://www.guardianadlitem.org/. Please volunteer today.
Cindy S. Lederman, judge, 11th Judicial Circuit, Miami
Alan Abramowitz, executive director, Statewide Guardian ad Litem Program, Tallahassee