Florida TaxWatch has honored the Statewide Guardian ad Litem (GAL) Program with two of its prestigious 2020 Productivity Awards for efficiency in government. One was for the Program’s “Free Florida CLE: LeGAL Support for Your Pro Bono Practice” YouTube channel, the other for its online “I Am for the Child Academy.”
TaxWatch credited Guardian ad Litem, which represents abused and neglected children in dependency court, with meeting the challenge of representing children and recruiting and training volunteer advocates during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“So much of our work is done face to face, but the pandemic made that impossible,” said GAL Director of Operations Kristen Solomon. “We had to find other ways to visit with many of the children, meet with community partners, attend court hearings and conduct classroom trainings for staff and volunteers.”
This meant finding new ways of advocating for each child’s safety and well-being, whether by strengthening and reuniting their families or by connecting them with foster or adoptive families where they could thrive.
Mary Kay McAnally, GAL’s Director of Education and Development, said the Program did that by intensifying its outreach strategies via social media and engaging more people remotely. Recruitment kept pace: GAL has 1,700 new volunteers this year and is on track to reach the 2,000 mark for 2020.
The Program also expanded its online trainings and live webinars with statewide experts. The “I Am for the Child Academy” (https://florida-guardian-ad-litem-program.thinkific.com) offers free courses on child abuse and neglect, educational advocacy, trauma and resilience, substance use disorder, recovery and effective communication. The Academy now has 151 published courses and 4,767 new accounts this year.
“Our volunteers just eat up every training,” McAnally said. “We have anywhere from 300 to 600 people at every webinar.”
Solomon said GAL’s achievements during the pandemic have their roots in the long-term goal of making training more comprehensive and widely available.
“We were able to meet the challenge of recruiting volunteers and representing children during the pandemic because we had done the groundwork already,” she said.
The second Productivity award was for another GAL training initiative: “Free Florida CLE: LeGAL Support for Your Pro Bono Practice,” a one-stop shop for pro bono attorneys at www.freefloridacle.com. This is the third straight year that TaxWatch has honored GAL’s Pro Bono section.
This YouTube channel provides a one-stop shop for pro bono attorneys, offering free continuing legal education courses on topics such as dependency, appeals and special needs. The Dec. 4 Florida Bar News reported on its benefits for attorneys at www.floridabar.org/the-florida-bar-news/florida-guardian-ad-litem-program-wins-awards-pushes-new-training-efforts.
TaxWatch also honored GAL in 2019 for its partnership with the Florida Association for Women Lawyers, in which pro bono attorneys mentor teenagers. In 2018, the Program won a Productivity Award for the “Defending Best Interests Project,” which recruits pro bono attorneys to write appellate briefs. To date, $1.97 million worth of pro bono hours have been donated to this project alone.
To learn more about becoming a Guardian ad Litem volunteer, please call 1-866-341-1425 or visit www.guardianadlitem.org.