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The Bar Bulletin
Jax Daily Record Thursday, Apr. 1, 202105:10 AM EST

Guardian ad Litem program helps children in the foster care system

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Make the world a better place by donating your time to help a child who needs you.

By Missy Davenport, JBA Pro Bono Committee Chair

Florida Guardian ad Litem is a volunteer-based program with the mission of representing some of the state’s most vulnerable residents.

Missy Davenport

The program’s sole statutory responsibility is to advocate for the best interest of children who are in the foster care system and under the supervision of the Department of Children and Families.

A guardian is more to a child than just their court-appointed child advocate. The volunteer is the voice for a child in dependency court but often also becomes a role model, mentor, educational surrogate, friend, confidant and a consistent caring person on whom the child can rely.

Volunteers make an enormous impact on the lives of the children they serve. Children with an advocate are more likely to be adopted, are half as likely to return to foster care, are less likely to spend time in long-term foster care and are more likely to perform well in school. 

GAL volunteer Alan Pickert recounts his experience and explains how the program improved the lives of two children:  

What were the facts of your case?

I worked with siblings, a girl, 9, and her brother, 3, who through no fault of their own were dealt a bad hand in life.

They were neglected by their father, who subsequently was sent to jail for manslaughter, and their mother, who abused drugs.

The girl failed first grade twice because the first year, her mother opted to home school but never did, and the second year, she was absent from school for more than 50 days.

The children were removed from the home and placed in foster care with me appointed as their Guardian ad Litem.

What were you able to accomplish for your clients?

After the children were placed in foster care, they flourished.

We were able to get the girl a weekly tutor to help her with school work and she was promoted to the second grade. She learned to swim. She became healthier as more vegetables were introduced into her meals.

Her brother, who always has a smile on his face, also developed better eating habits, was enrolled in a pre-care school environment where he spent time with other children his age and learned structure, love and discipline.

Both children eventually were adopted by their foster mother and are living happily with her.

Why was the outcome important to your client and why was the experience important to you?  

It’s amazing how being a Guardian ad Litem can bring so much perspective and happiness to one’s life.

How many times do we complain about our circumstances despite the fact that we played a role in causing our problems or situations?

These children did nothing wrong themselves, but were put in a bad situation for years by their parents.

Now, they have a much better chance to succeed in life because of the love and efforts of their foster and adoptive mother plus the efforts of the Guardian ad Litem program.

What is the name of your firm?  In what areas do you practice?

I have been practicing asbestos cancer and mesothelioma litigation for almost 30 years at the Law Firm of Terrell Hogan.

I have represented almost 4,000 victims of asbestos, so my expertise is in mass torts not in family law, other than being a father of four.

Yet, I was able to be of some help to these children as their Guardian ad Litem for a year and counting.

What advice do you have for other attorneys considering pro bono involvement?

I encourage and challenge everyone in the legal profession to do some type of pro bono work and get involved in 2021. The world would be an even better place if everyone would just take some time to lend a helping hand to those in need. 

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month and it’s a great time to get involved with the Guardian ad Litem program.  Thirty hours of pre-service training is provided to ensure the volunteer is fully ready to advocate for a child.

If you are ready to get involved,  call (904) 255-8440 or email Guardian ad Litem Program Recruiters Samari Franco ([email protected]) or Grant Jones ([email protected]).

More information about the program is at www.galfirstcoast.org.

Attorneys interested in pro bono opportunities in the 4th Judicial Circuit may contact [email protected].

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