Guardian Ad Litem Honors Counties for Supporting Kids in Foster Care


[Tallahassee] - The Florida Guardian ad Litem Foundation is honoring four counties – Highlands, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and Sarasota – for their exceptional support of abused and neglected children through partnerships with their local Guardian ad Litem circuit programs.


This is the second year the foundation has honored counties that go "above and beyond" to support Guardian ad Litem, whose staff and volunteers advocate for maltreated children in dependency court.


There are 20 Guardian ad Litem programs statewide, one in each judicial circuit. The counties have a constitutional duty to support the programs with office space, furniture, computers and phones – but some counties are able to do much more.


"We are a necessary partner," says Miami-Dade County Commissioner Sally Heyman, whose district falls within Guardian ad Litem's 11th Circuit.


For instance, this year's honored counties put funding into Guardian ad Litem staff positions, parking for staff and volunteers, technical support and office supplies.


Sarasota County paid for 3 key staff positions, says Toni Latortue, director of the 12th Circuit Guardian ad Litem program serving DeSoto, Manatee and Sarasota counties – and "pushed for more office space for our overgrown team."


Highlands County houses Guardian ad Litem in a building that also contains the Department of Children and Families, victim's advocates with the Highlands County Sheriff's Office, and mental health counselors with the Peace River Center. "We can efficiently and expediently collaborate on cases, and obtain information quickly," says Circuit Director Cookie Mooney of Guardian ad Litem's 10th Circuit, which serves Hardee, Highlands and Polk counties. "This extraordinary benefit leads to more informed, effective advocacy on behalf of the children we serve."


And Circuit Director Michelle Canaday of the 15th Circuit praises Palm Beach County for making "a great effort to include us in any community activity that allows us to spread the message about the program and what we do. They include our staff in all county and courthouse events and collaborate on educating our volunteers and the public on important issues involving mental health, substance abuse, and domestic violence… [They] have always shown an interest in our program and how it benefits children in the dependency system."


That's the idea, says Sally Heyman, who chairs the Miami-Dade County Commission's public safety committee: to encourage more networking by civic-minded Floridians to help children. By working together – including sharing a building, she says – they inspire each other.


"It sparks in other people's minds. Next thing they're saying, 'Maybe we need to give bus passes to these kids,'" Heyman says. "Any time we create an opportunity instead of an obstacle, it helps children."


According to Circuit Director Jessica Allen of the 11th Circuit, which serves Miami-Dade, the county provides office space for more than 100 Guardian ad Litem employees and the program's non-profit partner. Miami-Dade also funds 6 positions: two attorneys, a child advocate manager, a legal secretary and two administrative support personnel.


To learn more about the Guardian ad Litem Program or to become a volunteer visit or call 1-866-341-1GAL.