Written by yvonne.marrone

Why I Love Being a Guardian ad Litem – February Press Release

February 12, 2019 Contact: Tabitha Lambert,
Guardian ad Litem Circuit Director

Why I Love Being A Guardian ad Litem

Tampa, FL – You can make a lifelong difference for a child in the foster care system, and discover a volunteer experience you’ll love. Jerry Denney, Guardian ad Litem Volunteer Child Advocate for 3 years, said it was a little daunting “…learning how much need there is to help children in the dependency system. But it was also encouraging to see how I can have an impact by identifying services and the needs of a child. What some may consider minor changes can have a major effect on a child’s life. And the love and appreciation that comes with this experience is the most rewarding compensation one could ask for.”

Our volunteers range from college students to retirees and all ages between. They come from a variety of backgrounds and professions, but all seem to bring the same focus, helping children in need. Often the Guardian ad Litem is the one consistent adult figure in the child’s life.

“I know it sounds simple,” Volunteer Child Advocate Erin Mollura says, “but I love that I get to make a real, definable difference in the lives of the children I work with. I love knowing that even if they don’t remember my name or face when their case is closed, the work we ALL do as a team will mean something.” A Guardian ad Litem will visit with and get to know a child, research what services the child may need, and advocate for the child’s best interest with reports to the court. Statistics show children with a Guardian ad Litem Volunteer Child Advocate do better in school, receive more services, and spend less time in the system.

Hillsborough County has more children in the dependency system than any other county in the state. Thirteenth Circuit’s Guardian ad Litem Program Director Tabitha Lambert says the need for volunteers to advocate for these children is great. “Many of our volunteers have been with us for years,” says Lambert. “While this can be a challenging and sometimes frustrating experience, those who keep coming back for another child tell us they love what they’re doing and a child’s smile makes it all worthwhile.”

Information sessions are held every Thursday in various parts of the county to answer questions about the Guardian ad Litem Program and what volunteers do. For locations and times and to learn more, call (813) 272-5110 or visit www.galtampa.org.

###Feb 2019 Press Release Why I Love Being A Guardian ad Litem

Written by yvonne.marrone

December 2018 Newsletter

Here are some exciting highlights from 2018:

 Increased our total number of volunteer child advocates to 747
 Certified an average of 17 new volunteers per month resulting 192 new volunteer child advocates for           the year
 Represented a total of 3,277 children
 Increased percentage of representation to 74% of children having a GAL
 Received an additional $25,000 in our county budget thanks to Commissioner and GAL Sandy                  Murman
 Created a new website and a new PSA thanks to grants from the Children’s Board and support from          Complete Spectrum
 Created a GAL Packet for all volunteers to use and stay updated
 Implemented new training, in-service, and brown bag lunch topics
 Participated in new marketing strategies to include:
Spirit FM Radio, Television ads, Newspaper ads, Bus Shelter Posters, Bus
Ads, and more!
 Grew to 70 staff members
 Created a Volunteer Liaison position to be available for volunteers
 Established some support groups for volunteers in 3 locations in the county
 Helped 1,025 children find permanency through Adoption, Reunification, or Permanent


December 2018

Written by yvonne.marrone

November 2018 Newsletter

We also celebrated our first GAL-iday Open House on Wednesday, 12/5! We’ve never done an event like this before and our staff really went all out to make this a special event for our volunteers and our community partners. Thank you to everyone who stopped by, wandered through the decorated hallways of the GAL office, enjoyed some treats and company, and who voted for your favorite theme! Who did you vote for? (Winner announced at the bottom of the page!)

November 2018 final

Written by yvonne.marrone

Tabitha Lambert, GAL Program Director shares need for more volunteers

November is a month filled with reminders about being grateful, and to add to that November is also National Adoption Month!  So many children make the final step into the forever families during this month here in Hillsborough County as well as across the state and country.


Adoption November 2018

Written by yvonne.marrone

Pinwheel Gardens are popping up all over Tampa

Date: April 23, 2018 Contact: Tabitha Lambert,
Guardian ad Litem Circuit Director

Guardian ad Litem Program Urges Hillsborough County Residents to
Be Aware of Child Abuse

Tampa, FL – See things spinning before your eyes? If so, it may be part of several ‘Pinwheel Gardens’ across the area marking National Child Abuse Prevention Month. In 2008, Prevent Child Abuse America introduced the pinwheel as the new national symbol for child abuse prevention through Pinwheels for Prevention®. Research showed that people respond positively to the pinwheel as it connotes whimsy and childlike notions.
The Guardian ad Litem (GAL) Program hopes residents of Hillsborough County will see the pinwheels and take action to support children who have been abused or neglected and are currently having painful childhoods.

Pinwheels have been placed at George Steinbrenner Field, Winthrop Town Centre, Elder Ford, Charles Fendig Library, and several Hillsborough County offices and South Tampa stores and restaurants, among other places. Additional information can also be found at www.IFight4Kids.org.

GAL volunteers can make a difference for children in the foster care system by being a voice in court, ensuring they receive needed services, and helping to work toward family reunification or finding a “forever family.”
There are more than 3,400 foster children in Hillsborough County. These children come into the dependency system through no fault of their own and need a caring adult to be a consistent figure in their life.

“The number of children coming into care continues to grow and we aim to meet the need for each to have an advocate,” said Tabitha Lambert, Guardian ad Litem Circuit Director. “Every child deserves the support of a caring, consistent, trained adult to help them find a safe, loving home where they can heal and thrive.”

If you had someone who made a difference in your life as a child—parent, sibling, teacher, coach, neighbor—remember them as you see the pinwheels and consider making a difference in the life of a foster child as a Guardian ad Litem volunteer. Information Sessions are held weekly on Thursday evenings at 6:00 p.m. Locations vary and can be found on the website, www.galtampa.org.

“GAL volunteers are a constant for the child in a time of chaos,” explains Lambert. “A child may have multiple social workers, attorneys, therapists, and foster placements throughout the life of the case, but only one GAL volunteer that can make all the difference for the child’s future.”
For more information on how to become a Guardian ad Litem volunteer or supporter, visit https://www.galtampa.org  to learn more or call 813-272-5110. #IFight4Kids

Written by completespec


[Tallahassee, Florida] –  The Florida Guardian ad Litem Program has won a resounding legal victory in the United States Supreme Court – upholding the principle that a child’s best interests are paramount in contested paternity proceedings.

The victory came on Dec. 11, 2017, when the high court rejected the 11th-hour claims of a Florida man, M.L., who asserted he was the biological father of J.L., who was born addicted to cocaine in 2015. The Department of Children and Families had removed the newborn from his biological mother and soon placed him with the foster parents who want to adopt the child. On the eve of the termination of rights hearing, the father – who had previously shown little interest in the child – tried to prevent the court from making J.L. legally free for adoption by his foster parents. This would have had the effect of removing him from the family he has come to know as his own.

“The child’s parents had basically abandoned him,” said Guardian ad Litem Executive Director Alan Abramowitz. “But he was in a loving, stable foster home, and it was in his best interests to have a forever family.”

The Guardian ad Litem Program fought to prevent the last-minute disruption – all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

At J.L.’s shelter hearing in January 2015, DCF advised the court the mother was married but estranged from her husband, who had no interest in the child. The mother identified M.L. as the biological father. He later claimed to have been present at J.L.’s birth and was named on the birth certificate. However, under Florida law, the mother’s husband was J.L.’s legal father.

Court records show that the mother, husband, and M.L. all attended a subsequent hearing, and M.L. was advised on how to establish paternity. The mother, her husband and M.L. were referred for DNA testing in March 2015. Yet M.L. “waited a year and a half to establish his paternity, until after DCF filed its termination petition, and he still did not have DNA confirmation that he was the child’s biological father.” M.L. v. Dep’t of Children & Fams., 227 So. 3d 142, 146 (Fla. 4th DCA 2017).

Despite M.L.’s lengthy delay, the trial court entertained his emergency motion to intervene and to stay the pending termination trial. After the court denied the motion, it still permitted M.L. to file an amended motion to intervene. The court even continued the trial, admonishing the parties to complete anything they needed to prior to the trial. The court heard and denied M.L.’s amended motion, conducted the termination trial, and entered an order terminating the rights of the mother and her husband.

GAL was the lone voice fighting for the child. On Monday, the high court declined to review a ruling by the Fourth District Court of Appeal that M.L. had waited too long to assert his rights.

“I was thrilled to advocate in the United States Supreme Court for the legal rights of this child,” said GAL appellate attorney Thomasina Moore. “He’s been scheduled to be adopted, and it’s been postponed. The court’s ruling affirms that children’s interests must come first in dependency proceedings.”

Thanks to the high court ruling, J.L.’s adoption was finalized on Friday, Dec. 15, 2017.

Written by completespec

Hillsborough County Awarded Guardian ad Litem Program County of the Year

TAMPA, Fla. (Nov. 16, 2017) The Florida Guardian ad Litem Foundation announced Hillsborough County as the winner of the inaugural Florida County of the Year Award in Category three, which includes counties with populations greater than one million people.

The award was presented to the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners by Tabitha Lambert, director of the Hillsborough County Guardian ad Litem (GAL) program and was created to recognize the commitment to help children in foster care.

“In working with other circuits prior to my position in Hillsborough County, I had the opportunity of getting to know the support that other counties provide, which does not compare to the support that Guardian ad Litem Program receives from Hillsborough County,” says Lambert.

Hillsborough County currently leads all other Florida counties with an estimated 3,600 abused, abandoned and neglected children in the court system. About half of these children have no representation in the court system.

The GAL program trains volunteers to speak up for the best interests of children who have been removed from their homes and have been placed with relatives or foster parents.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandra Murman, who is also a GAL volunteer, was instrumental in establishing a Blue Ribbon Panel Committee which brought together local leaders in the child welfare community.  The group utilizes various data analytics to help children and families in our county.

Thanks to Hillsborough County’s efforts, the GAL staff was able to add additional employees to help certify more than 200 volunteers in 2017 and to help represent more children going through the dependency court system.

For more information about the Guardian ad Litem program of Hillsborough County, call (813) 272-5110 or visit www.galtampa.org.


About Guardian ad Litem (GAL)

The Florida Guardian ad Litem Program is a partnership of community advocates and professional staff providing a powerful voice on behalf of Florida’s abused, abandoned and neglected children.

Written by completespec

Tibet: The Story of Florida’s First Courthouse Facility Dog’ Accepted into the Hollywood Florida Film Festival

TAMPA, Fla. (Jan. 16, 2018) The Voices for Children and Guardian ad Litem Film Tibet: The Story of Florida’s First Courthouse Facility Dog is set to screen at this year’s Hollywood Florida Film Festival.

This is the seventh film festival screening for the “Dogumentary” which tells the story of how former Voices for Children of Tampa Bay Executive Director Betsy Smith and Guardian ad Litem volunteer Brenda Kocher were able to bring the Courthouse Facility Dog Program and the film’s star, Tibet, to the Hillsborough County 13th Judicial Circuit in Tampa, Florida.

Tibet provides emotional support for the abused, neglected and abandoned children who are facing the dependency court system during stressful and difficult proceedings.

Tibet was the first facility dog staffed in the state. Thousands of children have to testify without any support.

With the success of the program which began in 2014, they hope to expand and bring more facility dogs to courthouses around the state.

The silver and gold Telly-award winning documentary “Tibet: The Story of Florida’s First Courthouse Facility Dog” was produced by HCP Associate’s production company, Gulf Atlantic Films (www.gafilms.com).

The Hollywood Florida Film Festival runs February 7-11, 2018, for more information about the visit http://www.hollywoodfloridafilmfestival.com/.

To learn more about Voices for Children and Guardian ad Litem, please visit www.vfcgal.org or call (813) 275-9300.

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