Eight-year old Jose and his siblings came into the dependency system when the Department of Children & Families sheltered them because they were malnourished and living in a filthy environment. He was placed in two different foster homes in one month, separated from his siblings. He was about to be moved to a third placement when his Guardian ad Litem went to court and successfully advocated that they be placed together.
Twelve-year old Margaret came into the system when she was 2 years old and abandoned by her mother, a drug addict. It was hard to find a family to adopt her because she has mental-health issues, so she remains in the foster-care system. When Margaret asked her group-home parent if she could stay the night at a girlfriend’s house, she was told that finger prints and a home study would have to be done on her friend’s parents before she could go.
Margaret’s Guardian ad Litem argued for Margaret’s right to lead a normal life like that of any other 12 year old, and the judge allowed Margaret to stay the night with her friend.
One-month-old twins, Peter and Michael, came into the child-protection system when it was discovered that Peter had a fractured skull caused by the mother’s boyfriend throwing him against the wall. The mother knew about the injury, but did not call the police. She allowed the boyfriend continued access to the child. The Guardian ad Litem advocated that it was in Peter and Michael’s best interests that the mother’s parental rights be terminated. The twins are now happy 1 year olds living with a loving adoptive family.
The stories of these children are just three examples of the way in which Guardian ad Litem volunteers can and have made an impact in the life of an abused, neglected and abandoned child. Our volunteers are independent fact-finders who represent the best interests of children who are placed under court supervision by the Department of Children & Families. They are often described as squeaky wheels, watchdogs, expediters and, most important, advocate voices for children who need them most.
As more children are being removed from their homes and placed under court supervision, the need for volunteer Guardians has never been greater. There are more than 3,500 children in the dependency system in Miami-Dade County.
Despite the fact that the Florida Legislature has mandated that every one of these children receive a Guardian ad Litem, we are only able to represent about 2,100 because we need more volunteers.
The Miami-Dade Guardian ad Litem Program, in conjunction with our nonprofit fundraising arm, Voices for Children Foundation, is actively looking for caring and concerned citizens to step up and be a voice for those 1,400 children who do not have an advocate to represent their best interests.
We seek volunteers who come from all walks of life and are representative of the diversity of our community. We provide each of our children with a community volunteer who visits regularly and creates a trusting bond with the child in order to develop insights into what would be the best plan to meet his or her needs.
Volunteers then go to court with one of our program attorneys to make sure not only that their child’s needs are being met, but that they are not denied the opportunity to be protected and to succeed because of circumstances beyond their control.
Guardians ad Litem strive to assure that no child falls through the cracks of the system. In fact, a child served by a Guardian ad Litem is half as likely to languish in foster care and twice as likely to find a safe, permanent and loving home in which they can thrive. Guardians profoundly affect the lives of the children they serve, and actively work to break the cycle of abuse by paving a positive path for the future.
Jessica Allen is 11th Circuit director for Guardian ad Litem.