Brown Bag Lunches:
Friday, November 15
Epi Center 2nd floor
13805 58th St. N
Friday, November 15
Topic: "Appearing in Court"
New Port Richey BBL
West Pasco Govt. Center
8731 Citizens Drive
New Port Richey
Please register for
in-services using the events calendar under the Pinellas tab
Please register for
in-services using the events calendar under the Pasco tab Here
Great Peeps To Tweet
A special thanks from Lauri Rosatti:
To all the new volunteers who trained with me this year, thank you for giving your time and dedication to the children that we serve! Tremendous thank you to the experienced volunteers: Jim, Greg, Vince, Denise, Marybeth, Nancy, Tom, Gene, George, Terry, Roz, Bob, Barbara, Gretchen, Lil, Linda, Dennis, Peg, Cindy and
, who have assisted in training our new volunteers so far this year. Your presentation is one of the most appreciated parts of their training!
Thanks to administrative specialist Amber Lewis for keeping the CJC office afloat when we were shorthanded.
A huge thanks to all the Pinellas CAMs for doing extra duty while we have been hiring and training new staff.
Thank you to all the attorneys for stepping on their cases while in transition to a new CAM.
Kudos to Diana and Sara's volunteer teams for being patient while waiting to transition to their new CAM.
Thank you to Julie Vander Linde for taking off on a new case and getting immediate services for her kids!
Thank you to new Volunteer Child Advocate, Blake Holtzhower for taking on his first case and being a great advocate for 3 kids!
Thank you to Katelyn Briggs for always being consistent, positive and a great advocate!
Bravo, Lupe Mayorga for attending court, getting her reports done in a timely manner and being a strong advocate!
Kudos to Robert Jones for being there for many kids and driving all over Pasco, Hernando and Pinellas County.
Thank you Terry Bechtel for being a wonderful advocate on a tough case with many different placements.
Bravo Greg Lauren, for always helping out no matter when and who is asking.
Kudos Patty and Steven MacLauchlan for taking on another case and working so diligently on their current cases.
Welcome back to
Thank you Catherine Poviones for joining Wendy's team!
Kudos Molly Walker on the mentoring role and working so diligently on her cases.
To Carol Schmidt, welcome back to the assessment team.
Kudos Beth Galic for taking on a couple of visits for another CAM.
Thanks to Greg Lauren for always stepping up and assisting wherever needed.
Congrats to Mia Sidlasky who did a great job in court!
Thank you to Salina Cummings. You are such a great asset to our Pasco GAL team. She is patient with our volunteers, explains things thoroughly before court, and works as a team with CAMs and VCAs. She follows up and reminds CAMs of things needed before and after a hearing. She shows with her actions that she cares for our children.
Kudos to Roger DePauw who regularly visits, attends all staffing and court dates. Maintains contact with Case Management. Good Job!
Special thanks from Karen Malo to Christy Nicholson for helping with Odyssey background checks on applicants. Thanks to
George Hunt for literally sweating it out in the heat at the Volunteer Village event with Karen.
Tanks to Paulette White for being the CALM in the Epicenter Office.
Thanks to Jane Abela for her assistance and advice.
Bravo to Rita Bechetti and Norma Stalion for sprucing up the interview room.
Thank you to the St. Pete Glitter Queens for raising $70,000 for the Guardian ad Litem Foundation of Tampa Bay to benefit the child welfare kids in our circuit. Thank you Mitchell Shenkman for all of the work you do for our program and for the kids in our circuit.
A big congratulations to LiaSusana Rodriguez who was promoted to CAM II and is now at the CJC office in Pinellas.
Pinellas September class
Welcome New Staff
Gaye Lene Hasha joins the Pinellas GAL office, with an educational background. She has worked for a private school for many years.
Welcome Rachel Villareal, who is also working in Pinellas. She has a social work and case management background. She moved from Wisconsin. Welcome to Carlee Mokma also joins the Pinellas Office. She comes to us from case management agency Directions. In Pasco, welcome to Jennifer Sheaffer who will do all of our out of circuit/out of county visits in Pasco. We are excited to have them as part of our team!
Welcome Newly Certified Volunteers
Christopher Blake Holtzhower
Laura (Carla) Walsh
William (Bill) Smith
Viktorvia Johnson, Esq.
Kathryn "Kate" Carter
Kristin M Johnson
Teresa Hair, Esq.
Patricia Smith Johnson
Commitment to Children- The children for whom we advocate are our most important priority.
Communication Built on Trust- The Program has a culture of open communication, active listening, teamwork, and regard for the views of others. This includes being honest and straightforward with the children we represent in keeping with their level of age and maturity.
Collective Empowerment- Each circuit has the authority and responsibility to make and implement the best decisions to meet the children's needs. This empowerment must be passed on to volunteers, staff and attorneys.
Collaboration- The Program proactively seeks to develop relationships that promote the well-being of the whole child.
Courtesy- The Program values all who engage in this challenging work and ensures they are treated with respect and dignity.
"Not what we say about our blessings, but how we use them, is the true measure of our thanksgiving."
As many of you are aware, one of our case management agencies, Directions, is no longer providing case management services in our circuit. All of the cases previously handled by Directions are now managed by Eckerd Connects Case Management Organization. The transition was completed on November 1, 2019. Not everyone from Directions transitioned so during this time please make sure that you keep in touch with your CAM and Attorney of any changes or updates on the case. Continue to communicate with case management and if you have any difficulties let your CAM and Attorney know right away.
November is also when we celebrate Adoption Month! Last Friday, November 8, 2019, Pasco celebrated Adoption Day with approximately 17 adoptions. In Pinellas, Adoption Day is on Friday, November 15, 2019. There are approximately 23 adoptions that will be finalized. It is always a celebration when kids find their forever families.
As Thanksgiving draws near, we are reminded how important it is to take a moment and express our gratitude for the things and people that surround us. We are so grateful for all of you, our volunteers, for everything you do to make a difference in the lives of our kids. We are thankful for the work the Guardian ad Litem Foundation does on behalf of our children, volunteers and program. It is through the dedication and selflessness of everyone that we change so many lives. Have a wonderful and safe Thanksgiving Holiday.
Go The Extra Mile!
There is a great opportunity for volunteers who drive more than 25 miles round trip to visit a child, or other specific purposes, to apply for travel reimbursement! There have been some procedural changes for reimbursement so take a few moments to read it over. Details of this program, forms and a brochure can be located on the Fl. Guardian ad Litem website.
To go directly to the program click
If you have any questions, please reach out to your Child Advocate Manager.
Sixth Circuit Vital Statistics:
Of those without a GAL
Transportation Approved Volunteers
Volunteer Child Advocate Best Practices
- Be sure to call or email to confirm your staffing is still set, and send a reminder you will be attending, as on occasion staffings are cancelled at the last moment, or just in case the case manager forgot you were attending.
- Remember to visit your kiddos at the beginning of the month if possible so that if you are unable to make it, your CAM still has time to visit. Communicate with your CAM any problem that arises that interferes with your monthly visit and remember to put your notes in Optima. If they are not in Optima, we won't know you did the visit.
- Be sure to secure permission from your CAM and the Circuit Director before taking your assigned child(ren) into you home. Following this practice will protect you from complaints or concerns.
- It's important to keep relationships professional and not become friends with those involved with your case: parents, foster parents, relatives, case managers. This will keep your recommendations objective and allow us to provide the best advocacy for our kids.
- Do not show your emotions in facial expressions such as showing anger during visits, staffings or in court.
- Verify all documentation independently of ECA. Make sure to have the parents sign releases so that we can independently verify the completion of their tasks. Don't count on case management to get you information.
- Changes are hard, and create stress, so it is especially important during this time of transition to remain courteous and kind with case managers and staff.
- Always ask if there are relatives, non relatives, friends or teachers who would be willing to be a placement for the child. Especially when a child is in foster care, we should always be exploring other placements. Remember to notify case management as well as your CAM of any potential placements.
- Bring your child a book or toy from the office as an ice breaker on your first visit.
A note of encouragement, wisdom from the young:
Volunteer Child Advocates
Randi and Jack Callahan were checking in with the teen young lady who they represent, who has been through a lot in her young life. The road was bumpy along the way, but she is now thriving in her prospective adoptive home with good grades, and social activities. After a heartwarming talk, reflecting on how far she has come, and their support of her throughout, they told her they were speaking to new Volunteer Child Advocates who did not have any experience. They asked her what was her advice to them? She took a very long pause, deep breath and said,
"Be patient. Tell them to please be very patient."
Thank you, Volunteer Child Advocates for your vital work and for your patience and persistence helping children.
Children's Attendance at Court Hearings
We're frequently asked about whether or not children should attend court hearings. There are certainly arguments on both sides, but what do the statutes and rules say? Is there a specific age that automatically requires children to be present? How are sensitive matters to be addressed in front of impressionable children?
Section 39.01(58), which defines a "party" to our cases, includes the children in that definition. Therefore, children have as much right to be present at hearings as we do as VCAs. This is explicitly confirmed by Rule of Juvenile Procedure 8.255(b)(1) as well. Thus, the "default" position is that the child should be present as a party to the case.
Does this mean that every child is required to be present at every hearing? No, as long as the court approves the absence. 39.01(58) and Rule 8.255(b)(4) allow the court to excuse the presence of a child at a hearing. However, this needs to be determined on a hearing-by-hearing basis, meaning that the court should not issue an order excusing a child from "this and all future hearings."
Case management, VCAs/CAMs, and caregivers don't have the ability to excuse children from court on their own. There are lots of arguments against children appearing at specific hearings, some good, some bad: Johnny has important testing that day; Johnny has a medical appointment that conflicts; Johnny is placed far away; case management is busy and can't arrange transport; and many others. But none of these qualify as a reason to not have the child appear without the court's approval. Most judges are reasonable and will allow either the absence of the child or a rescheduling of the hearing in appropriate circumstances.
Interestingly, Rule 8.255(b)(4), in addition to allowing the court to excuse the child, also allows parties to file motions to require the child to attend. Remember this provision if you have a situation where case management is outright refusing to make the child available for a hearing and you believe the child's participation in the hearing is important.
Since we've established that all children in the system have a right to attend hearings, the next question is should they attend hearings? This is a complex question,
and there is no easy answer. However, the first, and most important, thing you can do is really get to know your kids.
A six year old with a keen mind might want to tell the judge he wants to see his older siblings who are placed far away. A twelve year old might not want to be reminded why she is in foster care. A fourteen year old may want to tell the judge she wants to live with her mother, but does not want to be in the same courtroom as the father who molested her. We could fill a thousand pages sharing stories like these, all unique, and all worthy of consideration. There just isn't any substitute for knowing your kids and understanding their positions and motivations.
All that being said, as a very general rule, when a child is seven years old or older we should ask if he or she wants to come to court. Obviously, the words you use would be different for a seven year old and a sixteen year old, but the general message is that you have the right to go to the court and talk to the judge about the things that matter to you.
Judges have different policies on children in court. Some will allow in camera examination, meaning the judge either takes the child into chambers to talk, or clears the courtroom. This is allowed, but not required, by Rule of Juvenile Procedure 8.625(c). The in camera examination must still be recorded by whatever court reporting system your court has established, which can sometimes dictate where and how the conversation takes place, unless all parties agree that it should not be recorded. Some judges also want a witness present, such as a bailiff or the VCA. It is important to note that in camera examinations are at the discretion of the judge, meaning that if the judge does not wish to speak with the child privately, it cannot be forced upon the court. That's why it's important to never promise a child that he or she will get to speak with the judge in private.
Sometimes children will express that they want to talk to the judge, but only if what they tell the judge is a secret. It is crucial that you not promise this. The rules of juvenile procedure do not allow this. Even if you have a judge who has, in the past, conducted secret conversations with children, this practice is on the wrong side of the rules and could be discontinued for a variety of reasons.
Some judges are justifiably concerned about having children miss day after day of school for our hearings. Don't be afraid to suggest creative alternatives in these situations. For example, the judge may be willing to have the child call in for his or her hearing from the school. Most schools will cooperate with having the child available by the phone if they know in advance. After all, they don't want children to miss school
any more than they have to as well. Your judge might be willing to set the hearing in the afternoon docket, perhaps during the last period of the day or even after school. This would also minimize the impact. The point is, be creative! Don't be afraid to suggest new ways of accommodating a child's right to be heard.
Another key issue is balancing the benefit of a child having his or her voice heard in court versus the detriment of hearing potentially bad news or traumatizing information during the hearing. This goes back to knowing your child. A seven year old might be crushed for life to learn that mommy told her domestic violence counselor that she refuses to leave her abusive boyfriend, even if it means permanently losing her children. On the other hand, this may be something the mother has told the child many times in the past, and it would have no impact at all. My advice is to use your knowledge of the child and the posture of the case to try to determine what topics will be covered in your hearing. If they are of a potentially damaging nature to the child, alert your BIA and have him or her ask the judge to excuse the child during that portion of the hearing. Most judges will honor those requests. Sometimes, though, these issues come up suddenly. If that happens in your hearing, just quietly alert your BIA and have him or her interrupt to request that the child be excused.
Children appearing in court is an issue the system has struggled with for many years. As with most dependency issues, there simply isn't a "one size fits all" solution. The best advice is to really get to know the children in your cases and work with your CAM and BIA to craft an individualized strategy that maximizes your children's right to be heard while at the same time protecting them as much as possible.
Please note that this article has addressed issues related to children appearing at "routine" hearings like arraignments and permanency reviews. There are different rules regarding testimony at trials or evidentiary hearings, and you should check with your BIA if you encounter that situation.
Dave Gould, Esquire
Senior Child's Best Interest Attorney
Pasco County, Dade City Office
In September, I participated in a Webinar conducted by Sterling Volunteers entitled "Beyond Potlucks! Building Unity and Community within your Volunteer Corps", presented by Beth Steinhorn, president of VQ Volunteer Strategies. The overall premise of the webinar was to take a look at why volunteers leave and why they stay. I thought I would share some of the key principles discussed.
In general, when volunteers have a good experience, they are more likely to stay. In our world of child advocacy, the volunteer's experience starts at their first contact with the Guardian ad Litem Program and continues through the working of a case. The webinar largely discussed how building and nurturing a sense of community among the volunteers can increase retention and volunteer impact. Five strategies were recommended to do so:
1) Structure roles and volunteer opportunities so that volunteers interact with each other. We must be proactive in building opportunities for our VCAs to meet each other, as well as, ensuring teams are equipped for success by providing instruction and guidance.
2) Engage volunteer leaders to facilitate connections. The New York Cares 2009 study indicates that establishing volunteer team leaders is very important. These leaders should be trained in areas such as improving retention rate, creating a welcoming atmosphere and team environment and establishing rapport. This type of training helps volunteer team leaders to be effective community builders.
3) Use social media to empower volunteers to promote activities, tell their own stories and connect with others. The organization should not utilize its social media simply to push information out. But rather, as a platform for volunteer to volunteer contact - allowing for volunteers to post and share stories, as well as, equipping volunteers with posts that are easy to re-share. Because social media can be a time consuming effort, one recommendation is to engage a volunteer leader to serve as page administrator. This can potentially be a great virtual volunteer opportunity (i.e. for someone who perhaps cannot commit to performing casework).
4) Create joint celebrations for staff and volunteers. Social events that designed for staff and volunteers can be effective. It promotes team building, mutual appreciation and can be an efficient way to celebrate both groups. Structured activities to promote social interaction should be included in the celebratory affair.
5) Incorporate learning and structure in social events. These events should be optional, have clear goals and engage volunteer to plan them. This is another way to design volunteer opportunities that nurture collaboration.
Here in the 6th Circuit, we are certainly performing many of the recommendations proposed in this training. Hopefully, there may exist a nugget or two that might be helpful in our quest to obtain and retain our wonderful volunteers. Each staff member and volunteer are critical in Helping A Child Reach Home! Karen Malo (Pinellas Recruiter) and I welcome ideas and invitations as we continue in our mission to secure a Volunteer Child Advocate for each child in Dependency in our Circuit. "Each One With One"!
Please don't hesitate to contact us:
Karen Malo - 727-647-1858
6th Circuit Community Outreach Coordinator
August Pinellas Child Advocate
The GAL of the month is Gina Logan. Gina works tirelessly for the children that she advocates for. She is amazing with teenagers and helps prepare them for adulthood. She never gives up and is usually the only constant person in their lives. Gina helps these youth obtain driver's licenses, takes the on job searches, does college tours, and show up to their sporting events. Gina also stays in contact with kids when the cases close out as they adore her. She has really made big differences in the lives of children that she comes in contact with. She goes above and beyond for the Guardian Ad Litem Program and her willingness and kindness is something that should be admired and praised.
Child Advocacy Manager,
September Pasco Child Advocate
S. Greg Lauren
Greg is an asset to my team and I am so very grateful for his advocacy. Greg is a valuable volunteer who is so willing to help out on any case. He takes on very extreme cases and goes above and beyond to do what is best for the children he is assigned. Greg's past experiences make him an invaluable asset to any team. Greg comes to the Guardian Ad Litem program with multiple skills that he uses to inform and help children. Greg has been a volunteer for a little more than a year and has embraced our core values. He is always helpful and willing to help with visitations or help out another CAM with a case. Greg is a veteran, a father, a husband, and a good friend. I have been so very blessed to have someone so willing and helpful to join my team. For the year that Greg has been a VCA he has been assigned to over six cases, some being reunified and some moving to adoption. Not only has Greg become a VCA but he has recruited his wife to become a VCA in Hillsborough County. I cannot express my gratitude enough for Greg.
Child Advocacy Manager,
November Pasco Child Advocate
Jim Blaney is an extraordinary child volunteer advocate with a desire to make a positive difference for children and families. Jim has been a volunteer with the 6th Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program in Pasco County beginning in October 2005. Jim moved to South Carolina where he also became a volunteer. He then moved back to Florida and completed the training class, once again, in October 2016. Jim brings a wealth of experience and compassion to the program as he is also a Master Mentor who gives his time freely to other volunteers, as well as, the children and families that he serves.
Jim was born in New York City and is the oldest of six children. Jim earned a Bachelor's Degree in Radio and Television. Jim is retired from NBC Studios after working there for 21 years. Jim has volunteered at WFLA in Tampa and the American Red Cross, becoming Pasco County's Disaster Action Coordinator and Damage Assessment Lead. Jim is currently a volunteer in Dependency Drug Court and also in Dependency Court.
Jim ensures that the children receive the essential services that are necessary for the mental, emotional and physical well-being of each and every child that he works with. Jim is a great communicator and utilizes a team approach as he enlists the assistance of case management, schools, doctors, mental health providers and the Child Advocacy Manager to achieve the best outcome for children and parents. Jim has an extensive knowledge of substance abuse and addiction and understands how addiction affects children and families.
Jim goes above and beyond to ensure that the children are stable by providing a sense of normalcy in the lives of children who have experienced trauma. Jim has taken children to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers games, as well as, other activities. Jim is the first person that parents contact when they have questions or concerns. Jim has been recognized by various judges for his advocacy and dedication for the children and families that he serves.
Thank you Jim for all that you do to ensure the very best outcomes for our children and families. It is a pleasure working with you and the Guardian ad Litem Program is blessed to have such a caring and giving volunteer.
Child Advocacy Manager,
For the Children
13805 58th St. N, Clearwater
Thursday, Dec 12; 3-6 PM
If you missed the holiday wish list deadline and/or have a new case, please join us for the Holiday Magic Workshop! We will have gifts for children of all ages. First come, first served.
Pasco: Aripeka Elks
9135 Denton Avenue, Hudson
Saturday, Dec 14; 9-10 AM Adults Only
10AM-12 PM Adults and Children
If you were unable to travel to Pinellas, missed the holiday wish list deadline and/or have a new case, please join us for this Holiday Magic workshop! We will have gifts for children of all ages. Volunteer Child Advocates are welcome to shop for their kiddos from 9-10 AM. The event will then open for children and families to enjoy the fun from 10 AM - 12 PM. There will be a Santa, hot dogs and snacks, a craft table and more! First come, first served.
Foster to Foster is a new resource room located at Heritage United Methodist Church, 2680 Landmark Dr, Clearwater, FL 33761. The free items are for children who are in the system, who are in foster care,
parental care, relative, or non relative placement. The resource room includes
school supplies, bikes, back packs, school uniforms, new and gently used clothing, including holiday clothing for all ages, toys, books and hygiene items. Hours are
Tuesday and Thursday from 9:30 AM-12:30 PM. Foster Parents, Case
Managers, Child Protective Investigators and GAL Volunteers or Staff can stop in and pick up needed items for the families they serve. If questions, contact Kristin at 727-210-5227 or email Foster2Foster@yahoo.com
Self Care Tips
We hope you have a special holiday break from work, spend time with family and friends, eat wonderful food, and enjoy Thanksgiving traditions, whether that involves travel, watching football, the Macy's annual parade, or "Black Friday" shopping. It is interesting to reflect on the early history of the holiday. The
very first Thanksgiving was in 1621, in Plymouth.
It was an Autumn celebration that lasted three full days! Pilgrim Governor William Bradford invited the Native American allies, the Wampanoag tribe, to celebrate the good harvest with the pilgrims. The early settlers, who came to America seeking religious freedom, were giving thanks for their successful corn harvest and for their survival. Life was hard, and more than half of their original group who had arrived on the Mayflower, had perished. Accounts indicate, for the first Thanksgiving, not including the Indigenous population, there were 22 men, 4 women and over 25 children and teenagers who celebrated.
It is not certain that wild turkey was eaten; however, it is generally agreed that the early settlers enjoyed ducks, geese, swans, deer, seafood, and corn, which would have been made into a mush. They also ate fruits such as native cranberries, gooseberries, blueberries, raspberries, and plums. Today, according to the National Turkey Federation, over 95% of Americans eat turkey on Thanksgiving. The first Thanksgiving under the "new Constitution" was when President George Washington issued a proclamation naming Thursday, November 26, 1789 as a "Day of Public Thanksgiving".
In 1863 President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation which is linked
declaring the last Thursday in November as a day to give thanks. Since 1924, Macy's Department Store in New York City has been sponsoring a parade. The original parade featured live animals from Central Park Zoo. Some three million people visit NYC for the parade which features spectacular high flying character balloons, intricate floats and musical entertainment.
What ever your special traditions, during this season, the Guardian ad Litem Program, thanks
each of you
for giving of your time and talent, so generously. We hope all of you have a restful and special Thanksgiving Holiday!