Gateway GCC and the GAL Angel Tree Holiday Wishes
Guardian ad Litem (GAL) Program volunteers conduct an Angel Tree holiday event each year to fill gift wishes for the children in the dependency court system and represented by GAL advocates. The Gateway Golf & Country Club has participated for three years and continues to be the largest donor of presents since entering this holiday effort. This year Gateway GCC filled 70 kid's wishes and almost every gift given included more than one wish.
To name just a few of the wonderful gifts donated to kids:
- A 17 year old with severe disabilities received an adult 3 wheel bike and a gift card.
- A 14 year old girl received a computer and software so she can do her homework and improve her grades.
- Five bicycles
- A new children's car seat
- A play kitchen set
- A child-sized table and chairs
- Over 40 gift cards
A low estimate of the value of the gifts donated by Gateway GCC members is over $7,000. Representatives from Gateway also transported the gifts to the distribution site and that is a huge help to the GAL volunteers that conduct the effort because storing and moving gifts is always a challenge each year. The Guardian ad Litem representatives would like to extend a huge thank you to all who donated and also recognize Rosanne Ziegler for coordinating Gateway's participation in the 2015 GAL Angel Tree outreach effort.
Understanding the Guardian ad Litem Foundation, 20th Judicial Circuit
By Roxanne Wendling, Executive Director
The Guardian ad Litem Foundation (GALF) - 20th Judicial Circuit (fka Voices for Kids) is a non-profit agency supporting Florida's 20th Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties. The Guardian ad Litem Program oversees volunteers who advocate for abused, neglected and abandoned children in court, the child welfare system and the community.
GALF's mission is to ensure every abused, neglected and abandoned child in Southwest Florida has a Guardian ad Litem volunteer (GAL) and every GAL has access to financial assistance and resources available for meeting the child's health, educational and social needs, not provided by any other source. The goal is for every child to experience normalcy in their life and have a “voice” in court until reunification and/or permanency is achieved in his/her living situation.
Children assigned to GAL volunteer advocate are substantially less likely to spend time in long-term foster care and the court system; more likely to receive needed therapeutic services and to have a permanently closed case.
Through the course of FY14-15, in the 20th Judicial Circuit, the GAL Program:
- Represented 1921 children - 991 in Lee County.
- Supported 627 total GAL volunteer advocates - 308 in Lee County.
- Recruited, trained and certified 154 new GAL volunteer advocates - 66 in Lee County.
The shared goal for the GAL Program and Foundation is 100 percent representation, meaning every child in the dependency court system is paired with a Guardian ad Litem volunteer advocate "voice". Lee County consistently represents the highest need in the 20th Judicial Circuit due to the presence of the most children in the child welfare system and has averaged 60 percent GAL representation each month for the past several years. Currently the representation has decreased slightly to 58 percent due to an even higher number of children entering the system.
In order to achieve higher representation in Lee County, we must provide more GAL volunteer advocates through intensive recruitment from a skilled volunteer recruiter and current, mandated training from a certified trainer. In FY 14-15 the Guardian ad Litem Foundation expended $78,883.00 for recruitment, training and support of GAL volunteer advocates. Supporting this crucial part of the mission remains at the core of the GAL Foundation's commitment to the GAL Program in the 20th Judicial Circuit and we take this very seriously through intensive fundraising outreach efforts.
Children's Needs - Kids Being Kids
Children assigned to a GAL volunteer advocate have normalcy needs that are supported through our Children's Needs Fund. Fulfilling children's needs through the GAL Foundation continues to be primary request from GAL volunteers.
Once a child has been removed from his or her home through no fault of their own, very often circumstances change regularly with no guaranteed consistency. They may move from several relative's homes, through different foster placements, change schools constantly, have new case managers regularly assigned through the Department of Children and Families, and deal with various attorneys in the process.
Constantly changing circumstances create a great deal of stress and uncertainty for the child. The one consistent person in the child's life is the Guardian ad Litem who agrees to be the child's volunteer advocate and a regular part of their life, until the child achieves reunification, adoption or a permanent placement. This time frame can happen over several months to several years to achieve permanency.
During this time it is very important to strive for a sense of normalcy as best as possible in order to reduce anxiety and build confidence in the child. Through the course of constant changes in temporary homes/family dynamics to adjust to, different schools to adapt to, new healthcare providers to establish relationships with, new case managers to rely on, and unstable birth parents to navigate from, the court-appointed, trained GAL volunteer advocate is required to commit to the life of the case and therefore becomes the one stable, consistent, reliable person in the child/children's lives.
GAL volunteers monitor situations and have the necessary conversations with the child and the adults surrounding the child, and then communicate recommendations back to family court through reports and court appearances. If the GAL volunteer determines that a child has a normalcy need that would help stabilize the child, he/she submits a request to the GAL Foundation for fulfillment. The request is reviewed and then filled accordingly through the GAL volunteer advocate to the child/children.
The types of normalcy needs requested vary tremendously and are very specific to each case. As one can imagine: a child that has changed schools several times in one year will need help adapting and filling in the educational gaps in order to advance. Tutoring costs are often requested to meet this need. A child that is exhibiting signs of emotional stress can find soothing expression by taking dance or art lessons. Class lessons are usually negotiated to a reduced rate by the GAL volunteer and then requested.
GAL volunteers are trained to recognize signs, ask the child for feedback and seek appropriate supportive measures. A pre-teen that is experiencing challenges due to unresolved anger issues can benefit greatly from the discipline, focus and release derived through structured physical activities such as martial arts lessons or sports participation. A baby that leaves a foster home to move to a new placement may require an appropriate car seat, high chair or portable crib that meets current standards. GALs recognize and solve this stressor.
A kid that once lived in deplorable conditions and has never realized a birthday celebration feels the validation of his/her life though a birthday cake/present. A seventeen-year-old girl, that was sexually abused as a child, wishes to go to the Prom and reflect her best outward appearance in order to increase confidence, needs help with the associated costs. A kid that often feels different than the other kids in his classroom can experience the feeling of blending in as “one of the crowd” through a week at Boy Scout camp.
GALs make such requests regularly and many more. Again, requests made by being a regular part of the child's life, knowing what is at the core of the situation, and having the conversations necessary to make good decisions. This is what our Children's Needs Fund - Kids Being Kids program exists to support as we help kids fit in with their peers and feel “normal”.
During fiscal year 2014-15 in the 20th Judicial Circuit, the GAL Foundation fulfilled 636 requests for normalcy assistance with a total of $76,272.00 provided. In FY2013-14, 572 requests were fulfilled with $73,246.00 provided. 500 Children's Needs Fund requests were for Kids Being Kids items/experiences and the remaining 136 were through Beds for Kids. Our Children's Needs Fund- Kids Being Kids is considered to be a cornerstone and GAL Foundation is deeply committed to continuously seeking grants and donations for the annual costs associated with this program.
Children's Needs - Beds for Kids
It is especially traumatizing for a child to be removed from his or her home and placed with a relative or in foster care. The circumstances leading up to a child's removal usually indicates that the child has been living with a great deal of stress and uncertainty. Every child deserves an appropriate bed for sleeping and it is also required for temporary placement in a caregiver/foster home. Knowing they have a bed and bedding that can be called "my own" can ease anxiety and uncertainty and can represent a safe haven when the world seems to be swirling out of control.
In the course of their duties, Guardian ad Litem (GAL) volunteer advocates recognized that caring people are often willing to provide a good home to a child that has entered the dependency court system due to neglect, abuse or abandonment. However, the cost of providing the required bed/bedding is often a true hardship that becomes a barrier to accepting the responsibility of the child/children's placement. This is an ongoing need in the child dependency court system and all indications are that the number of children entering the system will continue to increase in the upcoming years due to population increases for this region and also continued economic challenges for the average families monitored by the Department of Children & Families.
Over the last four fiscal years, 2011- 2015, the GAL Foundation has provided 606 total requested beds throughout the five counties of the 20th Judicial Circuit, with an average of 151 beds per year: Lee County - 237 total beds averaging 59 per year; and Collier County - 206 total beds, averaging 52 per year. The total for both counties is 443 beds, indicating 73 percent of the need is in Lee and Collier Counties.
The goal is to meet 100% of the beds and bedding requests made by GAL volunteers during each fiscal year. The GAL volunteer submits the request through an online system on our website, the program assistant receives and acknowledges the request, and then notifies the Beds volunteer who purchases, schedules, delivers and sets up beds a minimum of two weekends each month. The Guardian ad Litem Foundation - 20th Judicial Circuit is the only organization committed addressing this unmet need for children in the five counties of SW Florida with the greatest need in Collier and Lee Counties.
If you would like to learn more about becoming a GAL volunteer advocate or make a financial contribution, please visit www.galfoundation20.org or call 239-533-1435.