Guardian ad litem program lost in Art. V funding shuffle

first_img April 15, 2004 Managing Editor Regular News Guardian ad litem program lost in Art. V funding shuffle Guardian ad litem program lost in Art. V funding shufflecenter_img Mark D. Killian Managing Editor The state’s guardian ad litem program needs $7.5 million more than the about $20 million already in the House and Senate budget plans to ensure it can continue to represent abused, abandoned, and neglected children at current levels.That’s the dire message Angela Orkin, executive director of the Statewide GAL Office, is telling anyone who will listen.Children’s advocates see a potential crisis and are lending their voices to the cause.“If the state doesn’t find a way to replace the lost money, a large percentage of the most vulnerable children won’t have representation at all,” said Gerard Glynn, executive director of Children First!“The effects on the kids will be enormous,” said Glynn, noting there would be an increased risk of more sexual abuse, the development of mental problems, and delinquent behaviors.Longtime child advocate Jack Levine said Florida’s GAL program is a national model for how to recruit and supervise citizens who volunteer as guardians ad litem, and it would be a shame if that system is undermined by a lack of funding.“They cannot do their job unless they are monitored, managed, trained, and supervised by quality professionals because of the vulnerability of these children,” said Levine, president of Advocacy Resources. “Our concern is. . . the core of supervision and oversite that needs to be done by trained professionals may suffer.”Levine said it would be unfortunate if the GAL program gets lost in the Revision 7, Art. V. funding transition.“I would hate for any part of it to be dissolved,” he said.Orkin said because of the transfer out of the court system, the GAL program stands to lose approximately $6 million in county support.“This includes rent, expenses, and 54 and one-half GAL staff positions,” Orkin said.Orkin said the GAL program also lost all its administrative support in the transfer from the court system to the Justice Administrative Commission in the executive branch, and the state so far has not provided “one single position” for the state office to take over those functions.“We estimate that $1.5 million is needed to fund the administrative functions and to continue representation at current levels,” said Orkin, noting that right now only about 40 percent of all foster kids have guardians, who serve as a voice for children in dependency proceedings.“If this funding is not provided, we will not be able to continue representing as many children.”Orkin said another $500,000 is needed for representation in Orange County because the Orange County Bar lost state money when a pilot guardian project there was eliminated.Orkin said both House and Senate leaders say they are continuing to work on the issue, “but we are concerned that as quickly as the budget is moving that we are going to get left out in the cold.”Orkin said all the House has set aside for the program is funds for the continuation budget, which includes none of the $7.5 million needed to maintain current levels of service, but did include the half million for Orange County.“We are about $7 million short in the House,” Orkin said. “On the Senate side, they initially just included our continuation budget, but Sen. [Rod] Smith, [D-Gainesville] — who I’m working closely with — included another million as a place- holder to continue looking at our program.”Orkin said the program also is keeping in contact with the counties to encourage them to continue at least funding some of the GAL program expenses, but most are unwilling to make any kind of commitment until the legislative session closes.“They would like the state to pick up everything,” Orkin said. “We are really caught in the middle between the legislature and the counties at this point, as to who is going to make sure we are held harmless in the implementation of Art. V.”Guardians ad litem serve a vital role in all 67 counties by looking out for the best interest of foster kids in dependancy court, said Howard Talenfeld, president of Florida’s Children First!, in urging lawmakers not to let the program become lost in the Art. V funding transition.“We want to encourage lawmakers to find a way to keep the guardian ad litem program fully funded so it can at least maintain the current level of service,” Talenfeld said.“If we leave this session, and we take this massive step back and discharge thousands and thousands of cases, we are just going to turn around and come back next session and ask for the funds to get us back up closer to 100 percent,” Orkin said. “We need all the support we can get before the legislature and the counties.”last_img