Ask GAL by Pam Hindman: Giving thanks for the hundreds of volunteers who make a difference in children's lives

November 21, 2012 

I would like to tell you what some of the Manatee guardian ad litem volunteers are doing to make sure that children are safe, loved and in permanent homes. Guardian Rachel represents a male teen. This young man recently re-entered state care due to a failed reunification with his mother. His trauma at coming back into the system resulted in a failed suicide attempt.

Rachel has been there for him, to listen and console him. She is a fierce advocate for his mental health services and tutoring to help him keep up with his schooling. Her presence assures him that there are people out there who care about him.

Kathy is the guardian ad litem for two siblings with different fathers. One child recently was reunited with his nonoffending father. The mother and father of the other child are in the process of having their parental rights terminated. The current caregivers hope to adopt the child once termination is complete. In the meantime, Kathy monitors the child's medical and dental care and has advocated for counseling for the child. She visits his daycare, talks to his teachers, and reports his progress to the court.

For the past three years George has been the GAL volunteer for two children ages 5 and 7. The case originated due to the mother's hospitalization for a drug overdose. The children were first placed with their father. When the father was arrested for domestic violence, the children were placed with grandparents. Originally the case objective was to return the children to their mother when she was drug free. Over the past three years the mother has had many positive drug screens and reunification was never possible. The father's rights were ultimately terminated due to his drug problems and recently the mother's rights were terminated, in her absence, because she could not be found. Bob has been a consistent presence for these two children with frequent visits no matter where the children were living. Now that the termination of both parents is complete, the children are set to be adopted by their grandparents, and Bob will testify that this is in the children's best interest.

There are guardians who accompany children to hospital visits, attend school programs, drive hundreds of miles to make visits when children get moved far away, advocate for placement changes when sib

lings are separated, find funding for beds when having a bed is all that is keeping a child from being reunified with a parent and uncover possible relative placements when it looks like there is no family. Now that some guardians are able to qualify to transport the children on their case, they can make sure the children get to medical appointments, appear in court, and visit with siblings and parents.

Guardians do mundane things every day that are extraordinary because of the impact they have on the lives of the children they serve. A nod of approval, a pat on the back, a kudos that says you are important, can give value to the child who is denied these things by their caregiver.

Guardian volunteers are exceptional people who make children's lives better. Although I am grateful every day for the guardian volunteers who are dedicated to the children they serve, I would like to take this Thanksgiving to especially say thank you to the 450 guardian volunteers of the 12th Circuit and the thousands of volunteers throughout the state who give of their time and talent to make sure that Florida's abused and neglected children have the best possible outcome.

I would also like to say how proud I am to work with some of the most passionate and dedicated guardian staff and system personnel in the country. Florida's children in dependency have a chance for positive, hopeful, futures because of the quality and love of the persons who represent their best interests. Thanks to all.

Pam Hindman, director of the Guardian ad Litem program for the 12th Judicial Circuit, writes this weekly column for the Bradenton Herald. Email her at askthegal@12gal.org, or write to the Guardian ad Litem Program, 1051 Manatee Ave. W., Hensley Wing, Suite 330, Bradenton 34205.

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