Ask the GAL: Volunteers with children save state $20M-plus

April 10, 2013 

What value does the Guardian Ad Litem program bring to the state?

More than 8,000 GAL volunteers statewide now represent more than 16,000 of the 30,000 children in dependency care. Florida law mandates that all abused, abandoned and neglected children be represent by a Guardian Ad Litem.

The annual economic contribution in goods and services volunteers bring to our children exceeds $20 million. It would take another 449 state employees to do the work of the volunteers and cost the state $18,241,971 to pay their salaries and benefits.

This doesn't take into account the immeasurable, intrinsic value GAL volunteers bring to the children. For example, just in our circuit there are volunteers who have:

• spent hours putting together bunk beds so the children have a place to sleep;

• transported children to a doctor's appointment when there was no caretaker to take them;

• driven from Bradenton to Plant City to tutor a child held back in school;

• picked up children from Palmetto to Fort Myers to visit a sibling;

• brought a child his first birthday cake ­-- ever;

• arranged telephone contact between a jailed mother and her child;

• visited a jailed teen daily to keep her spirits up;

• delivered food from the food bank to a hungry home;

• taken a child to their first baseball game;

• arranged for a donated computer to help a student take online classes to graduate with his class;

• arranged for summer camp activities;

• arranged for a special formula for a sick baby; and

• arranged for a third-grade class to send cards to a child devastated by having to move to another school.

These are just the normal everyday things GAL volunteers do for children and families. It is not part of the requirement to be a GAL volunteer, but it is part of the compassion volunteers bring to the children they represent.

Children with a GAL volunteer:

• Do better in school.

• Are 50 percent less likely to return to foster care.

• Have fewer placement changes.

• Receive more services.

• Are more likely to be adopted, when appropriate.

• Spend less time in foster care.

How do you put a value on these life-altering events?

Guardian Ad Litem programs statewide are building their volunteer ranks so every child will have the

volunteer advocate they deserve, but it is a two-edged sword. If enough volunteers are recruited to represent all of the children in dependency, we will need more staff to train and guide the volunteers. Hopefully, our legislators will see the value GAL brings to our children and fund the Guardian Ad Litem Program to a level that will bring the program into compliance with the state law mandate and allow representation of 100 percent of the children in care.

Pam Hindman, director of the Guardian Ad Litem program for the 12th Judicial Circuit, can be reached at askthegal@12gal.org, or at the Guardian ad Litem Program, 1051 Manatee Ave. W., Hensley Wing, Suite 330, Bradenton 34205.

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