Giving, caring, protecting, advocating, listening – these are some of the words that describe the spirit of the Guardian ad Litem Program. Each day, GAL volunteers help shape the future and create hope for the children of Florida who have been neglected and abused. Their work with the Guardian ad Litem Program on behalf of children is a pursuit of the heart.
GAL volunteers do not work alone however. Floridians from every walk of life support their work. There are many people in the community who work tirelessly for Florida’s children; their work for children is also a pursuit of the heart. Without these community supporters the work of the Florida GAL Program would be much more difficult. The Guardian ad Litem Program has established the title of Honorary Guardian ad Litem for those select community leaders who have gone to great lengths to support the program’s mission and goals. This page will give you a snapshot of the fine work by these individuals, each of whom deserves our gratitude for the contributions they have made in many areas of child welfare service.
Wansley Walters is a nationally recognized leader in juvenile justice. She pioneered juvenile justice services in Miami-Dade County from 1995 until Governor Rick Scott appointed her to lead the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) in January 2011. During her tenure, Miami-Dade not only had the lowest youth incarceration rate in the state, but also boasted one of Florida’s lowest juvenile crime rates.
As head of DJJ, Secretary Walters leads the state agency responsible for serving youth and communities throughout Florida. In October 2012, she launched the Roadmap to System Excellence, a comprehensive initiative to strategically reform juvenile justice in Florida. The Roadmap’s objective is to make sure the right youth receive the right service at the right time, continuing the state’s downward trend in juvenile delinquency. In November 2012 she was a 2012 Juvenile Justice Without Borders International Award presented by the International Juvenile Justice Observatory (IJJO) in London. Her impact on children in dependency has kept many children out of the criminal justice system by passing laws that are supportive of prevention services and civil citation instead of arrest and criminal records.
Florida Senate President Don Gaetz has made Florida’s children and the Guardian ad item Program a priority from the start. Don Gaetz followed through with his promise to the people of Florida to make children a priority including rewriting Florida’s child welfare statutes and advocating for funding for the Guardian ad Litem Program. He supports the Guardian ad Litem Program throughout the year – swearing in volunteers, attending volunteer appreciation events and advocating for children to have a Guardian ad Litem at their side, giving them a voice in court, at what is most certainly one of the most difficult times imaginable in a child’s life. For his determined work on behalf of Florida’s dependent children and continued support of the Guardian ad Litem Program, we designate Senate President Don Gaetz as an Honorary Guardian ad Litem. Thank you Senator Gaetz.
The Guardian ad Litem Program presented Representative Matt Gaetz with an Honorary Guardian ad Litem award for his dedication to Florida’s children. Representative Gaetz is a strong child advocate and was essential in the passage of the Keys to Independence Act – a law vitally important to children in foster care. Representative Gaetz is a strong supporter of the Guardian ad Litem Program and we thank him for his collaborative spirit and determination in improving the lives of Florida’s children.
Sharon Langer is the development director of Disability Independence Group Inc., a non-profit legal advocacy firm that promotes and protects the legal rights of persons with disabilities. Prior to her position at DIG, Inc., Ms. Langer was the Executive Director of Dade Legal Aid for twenty eight years. She practices primarily in the area of family law and serves on many committees, boards and task forces dealing with issues important to women and children. She served on The Florida Bar Board of Governors for nine years and held many leadership positions including: Legislative Committee Chair, and The Executive Committee. Ms. Langer served as vice-chair of The Florida Bar Children's Commission and has been an adjunct professor at the University of Miami School of Law. She is one of the founders and current Board Chair of Casa Valentina, Inc. Ms. Langer has received numerous honors for her community service and distinguished career as a tireless advocate for the protection of children, women, victims of domestic violence and other vulnerable populations including “FAWL’s For the Love of Children Award 2005,” “Women Who Make a Difference Award by the Junior League of Miami 2005,” “South Florida’s Unsung Heroes Award by the American Inns of Court (Spellman-Hoeveler Chapter) 2010? and the “Johnnie Ridgely President’s Award by the Dade County Bar Association 2011” - a transitional housing program for foster youth who age out of the system. The GAL Program thanks Ms. Langer for all she does for Florida’s children.
The Guardian ad Litem Program presented Attorney Jessica Rae with the Honorary Guardian ad Litem Award at the 2014 Guardian ad Litem Disabilities Training Conference. Jessica has tirelessly represented hundreds of children in dependency proceedings while at Maryland Legal Aid. As Assistant Director for Children's Rights, Jessica focused on dependency appellate practice and systemic advocacy. Jessica later joined the Baltimore City Department of Social Services and managed the Ready by 21 initiative created to improve outcomes for teens. In 2010, Jessica moved to Florida, where she became a Guardian ad Litem volunteer and later a senior attorney. In 2012, Jessica became the Florida Bar Trial Lawyers Children's Legal Services Fellow at the Community Law Program where she works with teens aging out of foster care. Her mission to help Florida’s most vulnerable children is an inspiration to us all. Thank you Jessica for all you do for Florida’s children.
At the Florida GAL Disabilities Training Conference Attorney Sue Jamieson was made an Honorary Guardian ad Litem for her lifelong work - Sue has worked for three legal services programs during her 40-year career: Jacksonville Area Legal Aid, Legal Services of North Carolina, and Atlanta Legal Aid Society. Since 1980, she has focused on the rights of person in institutions. She is a dedicated legal advocate for the disabled, made history and changed the lives of individuals with disabilities forever when in 1995, she filed a case against the Georgia Department of Human Services on behalf Lois Curtis and the late Elaine Wilson, who both spent the majority of their lives receiving mental support services in state institutions. Even though health care professionals determined that both women would be better off receiving treatment in an integrated community-based setting rather than a state-run institution, the state denied their release. Sue then filed Olmstead v. LC and EW.
The Olmstead case, widely described as the Brown v. Board of Education of disability rights cases, established the right of people with mental disabilities to live in the community with proper supports as a civil right.
To honor Ms. Jamieson the GAL Program presented her with a painting painted by Lois Curtis – one of the plaintiffs in the Olmstead case. After the Olmstead decision in 1999, Lois began painting and became a folk artist whose artwork has been displayed in venues across the country and is a part of the Kilpatrick Stockton Law Firm collection in Atlanta, GA. In 2011, upon meeting president Obama, Lois presented him with one of her paintings. Sue reminds us all that one person can make a real difference.
Senator Nancy Detert was named an Honorary Guardian ad Litem at the Children’s Guardian Fund of Sarasota’s 2013 Fall Luncheon. Senator Detert has devoted her career to advancing the well being of foster children and teens. During the 2013 legislative session, she sponsored two successful bills: one which restores normalcy to the lives of youth in foster care, and another (the “Nancy C. Detert Common Sense and Compassion Independent Living Act”) which allows foster teens to remain in foster care until age 21. The Senator sponsored the original bill in Florida which established the Independent Living Program. She also testified before the Ways and Means Committee of the US House of Representatives in May 2013, sharing Florida’s initiatives with a national audience. Detert is known for her love of young people and has spent many hours listening to the personal stories of teens in foster care. Senator Detert continues to advocate for foster youth so they are treated like our own children as she leads the state in advocacy for Florida’s kids.
Representative Ben Albritton feels that lawmakers should focus on people and with his tireless focus on foster children, this year Rep. Albritton sponsored a bill that will help countless foster children have childhood memories they will cherish forever. The law allows children in foster care to take part in everyday activities—just like their peers. After receiving a recent award for his work, Rep. Albritton said, “These kids deserve normalcy.” “They’re looking for hope.” He also said to the Guardian ad Litem volunteers “I love you and appreciate you.” The appreciation is mutual— the foster care children in Florida thank you Representative Albritton—our newest Honorary Guardian ad Litem.
Tampa Bay Rays first baseman James Loney and his wife Nadia were named Honorary Guardians ad Litem during pre-game festivities on Wednesday, July 11 at Tropicana Field, where the Rays hosted Guardian ad Litem Night. The announcement honoring Loney was made by Alan Abramowitz, Executive Director, before he and Justin threw out the first pitch in the game against the Minnesota Twins. Loney and his wife are featured in new public service announcements to recruit volunteer Guardians for the Program in the St. Petersburg and Tampa Bay areas. Loney is making news this season, with an April batting average of .373. In early July, Loney boasted a 15-game hitting streak, which tied his career high.
Representative Keith Perry of Gainesville became an Honorary Guardian ad Litem when he was presented with the award by Executive Director Alan Abramowitz at a GAL event on June 6, 2013. Perry was the House sponsor of the 2013 landmark legislation on Independent Living, which extended the opportunity for foster youth to remain in care until age 21. Together, he and Senator Nancy Detert advocated tirelessly for normalcy for foster youth and for strengthening services to youth aging out of care. Representative Perry has a long history of support for human services issues and programs. He currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Salvation Army and is a Habitat for Humanity volunteer. Perry formerly served as a Board Member for Boys and Girls Clubs.
State Senator Rob Bradley is a champion for children. Senator Bradley has shown his commitment to Florida’s children through the work he has done as chairman of the Senate’s Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice which funds court services. Even though Senator Bradley is a freshman senator, he was appointed to chair this committee - a very important role as the committee determines funding for the courts, as well as the Guardian ad Litem Program, Clerks, conflict attorneys and many others.
Senator Bradley consistently advocates for funding to provide a Guardian ad Litem volunteer to every one of Florida’s dependent children. He has pledged to work with the Guardian ad Litem Program in the coming years to advocate for increased funding to allow every dependent child to have a Guardian ad Litem volunteer. This year his work was crucial to a significant increase in funding for the Guardian ad Litem Program. He was also able to shift funding to prevention services in the Department of Juvenile Justice and Department of Corrections. His dedication and continued support will help the GAL Program reach all of Florida’s dependent children and create a better future for thousands of Florida’s children.
Recently, when he was honored with the award of “Honorary Guardian ad Litem” he said, “The real heroes … [are] the guardian volunteers … Their advocacy for these children truly changes lives.” He is right, and that is why Senator Bradley is an Honorary Guardian ad Litem- he is changing lives.
Tanya Wilkins, RN, BSN, wife of Department of Children
and Families Secretary David Wilkins, began her career as an advocate long
before her husband came to DCF. She and her husband mentored foster children
and provided leadership at the Florida Baptist Children’s Home in Tallahassee.
Since becoming the first lady of DCF, she was named by Governor
Rick Scott as Florida’s Volunteer Advocate for Foster Care and Adoption, within
the Governor‘s Office of Adoption and Child Protection. Mrs. Wilkins leads the
Fostering Florida‘s Future Workgroup, whose goal is to recruit 1,200 new foster
parents, retain current foster parents, and celebrate all of Florida‘s foster
parents. In that capacity, Mrs. Wilkins played a strong role in advocating for
passage of the Quality Parenting for Children in Foster Care Act (the normalcy
bill) that passed the Legislature unanimously this year and was signed into law
on April 11.
Mrs. Wilkins was a featured speaker at the annual
Guardian ad Litem Day reception on April 4, 2013. At that time, she was
presented with the first “Honorary Guardian ad Litem” award by Alan Abramowitz,