A GAL for every child would cost big bucks

first_img February 15, 2006 Regular News Jan Pudlow Senior Editor What would it cost to finally fund the mandate that every abused and neglected child in dependency courts be given a guardian ad litem, as the law in Chapter 39 requires?For the first time, the statewide Florida Guardian Ad Litem Program has an answer: Another $22.8 million over two years, on top of the nearly $25.7 million current budget, for a total budget request of $48.5 million.Now, of 43,859 children under Department of Children and Families supervision, 17,587, or 40 percent, have no one advocating for the child’s best interest in dependency court.When GAL Executive Director Angela Orkin presented those figures at The Florida Bar’s Legal Needs of Children Committee at the Midyear Meeting in Miami, she was asked what the response had been so far at the legislature.“‘Wow! That’s a lot of money!’” Orkin answered.But, she said she was heartened by strong support from Rep. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, chair of the House Fiscal Council, who has consistently supported growth of the GAL program so that every child can be represented eventually.“Does that mean $22 million? I don’t know what that means. It’s a big increase for a program our size,” Orkin said.The program is utilizing more volunteers than ever, more than 5,000, but additional people are needed.When Orkin later presented those figures to the Senate Justice Appropriations Committee, she emphasized progress made so far.“Last year, when you gave us $3.3 million, we were able to increase representation to about 2,300 kids. Over the last 18 months, we’ve increased children by 5,200, so we’ve almost doubled what you gave us.”But, the problem is the remaining 17,500 children with no one speaking up for their best interest in court.The committee’s chair, Sen. Victor Crist, R-Tampa, said, “This committee understands the importance of your work. We provided as much support as we humanly could. When the service was created, we funded $20 million. Last year, we reached in and pulled out another $3 million, one of the largest increases in this committee. We will support it to the best of our abilities.”Fourth Judicial Circuit Judge David Gooding, who handles juvenile cases in Jacksonville and has increased adoptions by 300 percent, told the senators, “I wish I could appoint a GAL for every child.”Later, in an interview, Judge Gooding said, “I view the failure to provide a GAL for every child as an unfulfilled promise to children. You shouldn’t break promises to anybody, but you especially shouldn’t break promises to children.”One child came to the Senate committee to tell how much her life has changed for the better since she and her sister were adopted by the same family, and she had a GAL helping her along the way.“It’s wonderful to have a family actually care about me,” the 15-year-old girl from Quincy said. “I have somebody to run and talk to when I am not feeling OK. It’s great to have a family instead of moving from home to home, and you have to leave and get used to another family and then move again. Betsy was my GAL, and she was good because she was always there when my caseworker wasn’t there. She was backup when I needed her. She has an open heart, and when I needed something, she would do it right then and there, or keep trying until she got it done.”Crist told the girl: “You coming here and speaking to us helps us better understand what we are trying to do for others. You are a voice for thousands of people.” no one advocating their best interest in dependency court. A GAL for every child would cost big buckscenter_img Of the 43,859 kids under DCF supervision, 40 percent have A GAL for every child would cost big buckslast_img