Ask the Gal: What's the bottom line on seeking the best outcome for abused children?

June 20, 2012 

Q: Who makes sure that everyone working with abused children is working for the best resolution in the case?

A: There is both an organization and a person responsible for making sure the dependency system works for children in care. The Family Safety Alliance (FSA) is the current community organization responsible for oversight of the child welfare system in the 12th Circuit.

The FSA is comprised of dedicated community stakeholders (the health department, YMCA, Department of Children and Families, school board representatives, foster parents, Sarasota and Manatee County government, Department of Juvenile Justice, Manatee Memorial, etc.) who hold a public meeting every other month to review agency reports, identify systematic issues, and provide critical input into the local child welfare system of care.

The Family Safety Alliance, Department of Children and Families, and YMCA have a tri-party Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) for Circuit 12. This Memorandum of Agreement is the only agreement of this sort in the State of Florida, and, its existence has created a level of transparency and renewed a sense of trust for the community stakeholders in the child welfare system in Circuit 12. The purpose of this MOA is to facilitate information sharing, communication, and a community partnership in the management and oversight of community based care services for Sarasota, Manatee, and DeSoto counties.

As one of its objectives, the Family Safety Alliance elected to develop a systems advocate (ombudsman) position in order to monitor the delivery of the child welfare services in the 12th Judicial Circuit. The 12th Circuit ombudsman position is the only position of its kind in Florida and perhaps the United States. Funding for the position is shared by both Manatee and Sarasota counties.

The ombudsman reports to the Family Safety Alliance which sets policy, provides operational oversight and guidance, and determines what information collected by the ombudsman is subject to public disclosure.

Laura McIntyre was hired in 2009 for a one-year contract as the ombudsman for the 12th Circuit. The position has proven so valuable that funding has continued. She is the person who works to resolve concerns and complaints

from those affected by the quality of services being provided to children who are under the protection of the YMCA and its sub-contracted agencies.

The ombudsman also facilitates the accumulation of data and helps monitor the performance of the agencies providing child welfare services to children in the dependency system.

The overall benefit to children in care is that there is a level of transparency now that never existed before the FSA and the ombudsman.

Any part of the system (schools, case managers, foster parents, GALs, relatives, attorneys, providers, doctors, etc.) can contact the ombudsman to look into any concerns they have.

She reviews each case from an objective perspective and helps coordinate a resolution or advocate for the right course of action to take place. You can contact Laura McIntyre, child welfare systems advocate, at Laura_McIntyre@doh.state.fl.us

Pam Hindman, director of the Guardian ad Litem program for the 12th Judicial Circuit, writes this weekly column for the Herald. Readers who have questions for "ASK the GAL" about child abuse, foster care, child protection, adoption, or who might be interested in learning more how to become a GAL volunteer can e-mail Pam at askthegal@12gal.org, or write to her at Guardian ad Litem Program, 1051 Manatee Ave. W, Hensley Wing, Suite 330, Bradenton 34205.

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