Circuit court seeking advocates for kids

Filed under DAYTONA BEACH, LEAD STORIES, NEWS

BY ASHLEY D. THOMAS
DAYTONA TIMES

The Guardian ad Litem program of the Seventh Judicial Circuit Court is seeking people with the time and heart to fill a gap of child advocates in Volusia County. The circuit covers Volusia, Flagler, Putnam and Saint Johns counties.

Guardian ad Litem volunteers are sworn in at the Volusia County Courthouse.(Courtesy Guardian ad Litem program.)

Guardian ad Litem volunteers are sworn in at the Volusia County Courthouse.
(Courtesy Guardian ad Litem program.)

Of the more than 900 Volusia County children currently in court case proceedings, 774 of them fit the criteria of needing an advocate. Of the 774 children, 300 do not have one.

“The children we advocate for have been removed from their homes due to allegations of abuse, neglect or abandonment,” Lael Prytherch, the volunteer recruiter for the Guardian ad Litem Program of the Seventh Judicial Circuit, explained.

“Our volunteers are everyday people. They make sure the children’s best interests are heard so they don’t fall through the cracks.”

Voice of the child
Guardians ad Litem (GALs) are not the same as legal guardians and are often appointed in under-age-children cases, many times to represent the interests of the minor children.

They are the voice of the child and may represent the child in court, with many judges adhering to any recommendation given by the advocate. They may assist where a child is removed from a hostile environment, usu- ally by the Department of Children and Families (DCF) and in those cases may assist in the protection of the minor child.

“In dependency  court, where a child is removed, the state has an attorney, the mother has an attorney, the father has an attorney, the other father has an attorney, depending  on how many people are involved. But the child really has no voice unless there is a Guardian ad Litem appointed to that child,” explained Barbara Jacobi, director of  the Guardian ad Litem program for the Seventh Judicial Circuit.

“And that person, that volunteer,  and  our  program behind that volunteer represents what is in the child’s best interest, be- cause everybody standing in front of the judge has an interest in the outcome of the case.”

Impacts all backgrounds Although there are children who have an advocate due to being in the foster care system, some children find themselves involved in a case due to the watchful eye of people who pick up on much smaller cues.

It may be an administrator at a VPK (voluntary prekindergarten) program, a nurse at the doc- tor’s office or a daycare provider that notices something isn’t quite right.

“We have them from all ages, starting from birth,” Prytherch continued. Instances where children are immediately removed from the parent could be if the child is born with drugs in their system, but advocates are need- ed for kids up to age 18.

Neither race, age nor socioeconomic background is immune to the system. However, the rate of Black children involved in court proceedings hovers closely to the makeup of the population.

Taking care of their own
As there are negative disparities across the board on so many other statistics – including, lower test scores and higher incarceration rates for Blacks – Prytherch, who has data on thousands of children in Volusia, has a hunch that the pattern is static because of the way the Black family takes care of its own.

“Black communities tend  to stick together more; families take care of their own more,” she said. “That is  just my interpretation of it (the data), and I don’t have anything to back that up.”

The amount of Black children in the system is around 18 per- cent whereas the Black population is about 11 percent.

What the volunteer does
Prytherch said volunteers are given a file that has information about why children were re- moved from their homes, police reports, and other pertinent information. The volunteers then find out more about the child by visiting them.

“These are children that may have had eight foster homes, multiple case workers, their par- ents may or may not be doing what they need to do to get these kids back, and these kids have suffered a  lot  of  loss,’’ she explained.

“We don’t want to be another person that is in and out of these kids’ lives,” Prytherch continued. “We aren’t counselors,  we aren’t therapists, we are just people who care.” The goal isn’t to have the child removed from the caregiver, she remarked. “If it is a good placement, let’s help.

“If you have a case with a 1 year-old you may get on the floor, play with them. It doesn’t have to  be  perfect (the  home environment). It doesn’t have to be pretty; it just has to be safe. Say for instance, it is 1 year-old and there are  some exposed wires. Do you remove the child or could we maybe help with that? Pull a dresser in front of it, go to Home Depot and buy some electrical tape and cover it up.”

Advocate weighs in
Robert “Mickey” Waters, a volunteer with 16 years of experience and hundreds of cases, says that the help is needed.

“Because I have been here this long, and we have the choice of which cases we are offered and if we want to take it or not, some of the volunteers base their decisions on how much travel is involved or how egregious it is. I’m not  interested in  those things, and I don’t want a fluff case where someone has spanked a child. I know the difference in a spanking and a beating and I only take the most egregious cases.

I tell the newer volunteers to start with one they are comfortable with,” he began.

“There was one case where a young mother who was 23 years old had five children, different fathers, and had given up the first child in another case out of state. I was introduced to the case when a child showed up to the hospital with some injuries.

“Eventually her  (parental) rights were terminated one at a time. Reunification just  wasn’t possible. We found a couple that were able to adopt the children, twin boys. Fortunately a relative of that couple adopted the third child and another relative adopt- ed the fourth. The children will always be able to see and have access with their siblings. They were  all  adopted into  families with strong core values,” he said.

Best interest of children
“The children will be able to have opportunities to things that they would have never had,” Waters continued. “I am sad in my heart for the mother, because no matter what the misgivings, she is still the mother. The father of the youngest child had put his child in in a tub of scalding hot water, the child was five or six months old.

“What could a child that age do to deserve that? Any child? But that is the world that we live in. We have to always take in the best interest of the children and, yes, sometimes it hurts, but we have to be concerned with their best interest.”

Prytherch continued, “Best interest is a million different things for a million different kids. That’s why we need our volunteers. No one else has the time in all honestly. They will have a state case- worker and the caseworkers are amazingly hard workers, they may have 15 cases they are doing. They are not only looking out for the best interest of the kids, best interest of the parents, best inter- est of the foster parents, so in reality they are kind of putting out those fires and can’t hit those little things. But volunteers that have one or two cases, they are going to get it.’’

Goal: Stable, permanent home
“If you look at the statistics, kids that have a volunteer rep- resenting them are in the system roughly half the amount of time than kids who do not have a volunteer. Our kids that have a volunteer have better educational outcomes, they are half as likely to come back into the system because we help make sure that foundation is there.

“We save the counties that we are in a lot of money. Education- al outcomes are better so schools get more funding. It costs a lot to have kids in foster care.

Prytherch added, “I have seen where the judge in the court- room has shushed everybody and pointed at the Guardian ad Litem and said you, you tell me what to do.

“The goal for everyone is to get these kids in a safe, stable, permanent home as quickly as possible. That is the end goal.’’

Volunteer training takes 30 hours with trainees also taking part in a court watch program to view actual court cases for an additional three hours.

For  more information in  be- coming a volunteer Guardian ad Litem, contact Lael Prytherch at 386-453-1362.

Voiceofthechild

Guardians adLitem(GALs) arenotthesameaslegalguard- iansandareoftenappointedin under-age-childrencases, many timesto representtheinterestsof theminorchildren.

Theyarethevoiceofthechild andmayrepresentthechildin court, withmanyjudges adher- ingtoanyrecommendationgiv- enbytheadvocate.Theymay assistwhereachildisremoved fromahostileenvironment,usu- allybytheDepartmentofChil- drenandFamilies(DCF)andin thosecasesmayassistinthepro- tectionoftheminorchild.

Independency  court,where achildisremoved,thestatehas anattorney,themotherhasan attorney,thefatherhasanattor- ney,theotherfatherhasanat- torney,depending  onhowma- nypeopleareinvolved.Butthe childreally hasnovoice unless thereisaGuardianadLitemap- pointedtothatchild,explained BarbaraJacobi,directorof  the GuardianadLitemprogramfor theSeventhJudicialCircuit.

Andthatperson,thatvolun- teer,  and  our  programbehind thatvolunteerrepresentswhat isinthechildsbestinterest,be- causeeverybody standingin frontofthejudgehasaninterest intheoutcomeofthecase.

 

Impacts allbackgrounds Althoughthere  are  children whohavean  advocatedue  to

beinginthefoster caresystem,

somechildrenfindthemselves

involvedin  a  casedueto  the


disease killsapproximately  one womaneveryminute.

 

Cardiovascularhealth andtheBlackwoman

TheAmericanHeartAssocia- tionsaystheprevalenceofhigh bloodpressureinAfrican-Amer- icansisthehighestintheworld. Alsoknown ashypertension, high  blood  pressure  increas- esyourriskofheartdiseaseand stroke,and itcancauseperma- nentdamagetotheheartbefore you evennoticeany symptoms, thatswhyitisoftenreferredtoas thesilentkiller.

Heartdiseaseismorepreva- lentamong Blackwomenthan Whitewomen,andalsodevel- opsearlierinlife.

Morethan80percent of midlife African-Americanwom- enareoverweight  orobese, 52 percenthavehighbloodpres- sure,and14percenthave been diagnosedwithdiabetes.Allof

 

 

watchfuleyeofpeoplewhopick uponmuchsmallercues.

Itmaybeanadministratorat aVPK(voluntarypre-kindergar- ten)program,anurseatthedoc- torsofficeoradaycareprovider thatnoticessomethingisn’tquite right.

Wehavethem fromallages, starting frombirth,Prytherch continued.Instanceswhere chil- drenareimmediatelyremoved fromtheparentcouldbeifthe childisbornwithdrugsintheir system,butadvocatesareneed- edforkidsuptoage 18.

Neither race,agenorsocioeco- nomicbackgroundisimmuneto thesystem.However,therateof Blackchildreninvolvedincourt proceedingshoverscloselytothe makeupofthepopulation.

 

Takingcareoftheirown

Astherearenegativedispari- tiesacrosstheboardonsomany otherstatisticsincluding,lower testscoresandhigherincarcera- tionratesforBlacksPrytherch, whohasdataonthousandsof childreninVolusia,hasahunch thatthepatternisstaticbecause ofthewaytheBlackfamilytakes careofitsown.

Blackcommunitiestend  to stick togethermore;familiestake careoftheirownmore,”shesaid. Thatis  justmyinterpretation ofit(thedata),andIdon’thave anythingtobackthatup.

TheamountofBlackchildren inthesystemisaround18per- centwhereastheBlackpopula- tionisabout 11percent.

 

Whatthevolunteerdoes

Prytherchsaidvolunteersare given afilethathasinforma- tion aboutwhychildrenwerere- movedfromtheirhomes,police reports,andotherpertinentin-


which  contributeto  an  over- whelming cause ofheartdisease. Almosttwo-thirds(64percent)

ofwomenwhodiesuddenlyof coronaryheart diseasehaveno previoussymptoms.Evenwith nosymptoms,womenmaystill be atriskforheartdisease.

Tohelpaddressthisproblem, theCDChas createdwhatitcalls theMillionHeartsInitiative,a nationalinitiative thataimsto preventonemillionheartattacks andstrokesby2017.Thecenter is  pushingtheseheart-healthy tips  that  correspondwith  the ABCs”:

A:Takeaspirinasdirectedby yourhealthcareprovider.

B:  Controlyourbloodpres- sure.

C:Manageyourcholesterol.

S:Don’tsmoke.

Formoreinformationonheart

health, consult yourdoctororvis-

ittheAmericanHeart Association

onlineat www.heart.org.

 

 

formation.Thevolunteersthen findoutmoreaboutthechildby visitingthem.

Thesearechildrenthatmay havehadeightfoster homes, multiplecaseworkers,theirpar- entsmayormaynotbedoing whattheyneedtodotogetthese kidsback,andthesekidshave suffereda  lot  of  loss,’sheex- plained.

Wedon’twanttobeanother personthatisinandoutofthese kids’lives,”Prytherch contin- ued.“Wearen’t counselors,  we aren’ttherapists,wearejustpeo- plewhocare.Thegoalisn’tto havethechildremovedfromthe caregiver,sheremarked.“Ifitisa goodplacement,letshelp.

“Ifyouhaveacasewitha1 year-oldyoumaygetonthefloor, playwiththem.Itdoesn’thave to  be  perfect(the  homeenvi- ronment).Itdoesn’thavetobe pretty;itjusthastobesafe.Say forinstance,itis1year-oldand thereare  someexposedwires. Doyouremovethechildorcould wemaybehelpwiththat?Pull a dresserinfrontofit,gotoHome Depotandbuysomeelectrical tapeandcoveritup.

 

Advocateweighsin

Robert“Mickey”Waters,avol- unteerwith16yearsofexperi- enceandhundredsofcases,says thatthehelpisneeded.

BecauseIhavebeenherethis long,and wehavethechoiceof which casesweareofferedand ifwewanttotakeitornot,some ofthevolunteersbasetheirdeci- sionsonhow muchtravelisin- volvedorhowegregiousitis.I’m not  interestedin  thosethings, andIdon’t wantafluffcase wheresomeonehasspankeda child.Iknowthedifferenceina spankingandabeatingandIon- lytakethemostegregiouscases.


year in themaking.

Itwastimespent atthestun-

ningGrandSalonReceptionHall

at theShoppesofKillian.

GrandsonDr.CurtisHawkins

II,  a  pharmacist,wasresponsi-

bleforbringinghisgrandmother,

whowasunawarethatitwasher

surpriseparty.

Eva,  a  retired  educator,has

beeninvolvedin  teachingstu-

dentsatMiamiDadeCollegeto

prepareforsuccess.

Carlgottheentertainmenton

theroadasmasterofceremo-

nies,usingtheflamboyancefrom

histheatrical training.Hebrought

hisyoungson,Cassius,andwife,

Marina,thedeputy chiefacadem-

icofficerintheNewYorkpublic

schools.

The  programwas  worth  re-

memberingwith  vocalistsPaul

GolattandTangelaShepardsing-

ing EndlessLove.Itwasoffthe

chainforsaxophonist  JonSaxx,

who  workedthe  roomplaying

SamCooksAChangeIsGonna

 

 

Itellthenewervolunteerstostart withonethey arecomfortable with,hebegan.

Therewasonecasewherea youngmotherwhowas23years oldhadfivechildren,different fathers, andhadgivenupthe firstchildinanothercaseoutof state.Iwasintroducedtothecase whenachildshoweduptothe hospitalwith someinjuries.

Eventually her  (parental) rightswereterminatedoneata time.Reunificationjust  wasn’t possible.Wefoundacouplethat wereabletoadoptthechildren, twinboys.Fortunatelyarelative ofthatcoupleadoptedthethird childand anotherrelativeadopt- edthefourth.Thechildrenwill alwaysbeabletoseeandhave accesswiththeirsiblings.They were  all  adoptedinto  families withstrongcorevalues,hesaid.

 

Bestinterestofchildren

Thechildren willbeableto haveopportunitiestothingsthat they wouldhaveneverhad,Wa- terscontinued.“Iamsadinmy heartforthemother,becauseno matterwhat themisgivings,she isstillthemother.Thefatherof theyoungestchildhadputhis childininatubofscaldinghot water,thechildwasfiveorsix monthsold.

“Whatcouldachildthatagedo todeservethat?Anychild?But thatisthe worldthatwelivein. Wehavetoalwaystakeinthebest interestofthechildrenand,yes, sometimesithurts,butwehave tobeconcernedwiththeirbest interest.

Prytherchcontinued,“Best in- terestisamilliondifferentthings for amilliondifferent kids.Thats whyweneedourvolunteers.No oneelsehasthetimeinallhon- estly.Theywillhaveastatecase- workerandthecaseworkersare


 

JEROLINEMCCARTHY/DAYTONA TIMES CarlCofieldholdsson,Cas- sius,whilewife, Marina,de- lightsintheirson.EvaCofield isinaweofsaxophonistJon Saxx.

 

ComeandMarvinSappsNever

WouldHaveMadeIt.

AlphaKappaAlphasororsser-

enadedEva withatributeinsong.

SheisachartermemberofPiDel-

taOmegaChapterofAlphaKappa

AlphaSorority,Inc.

•••

As    always,   remember   our

prayersforthesick,afflictedand

bereaved.

 

Celebrations

Birthday wishesto:Candace Price,Feb.14;WilliamBJJones, LiliethVaz,Feb.18;MamieCau- ley,Feb.19.

 

 

amazingly hardworkers,they mayhave 15casestheyaredoing. Theyarenotonlylookingoutfor thebestinterestofthekids,best interestoftheparents,bestinter- estofthefosterparents,soinre- alitytheyarekindofputtingout those firesandcan’thitthose littlethings.Butvolunteersthat haveoneortwocases,they are goingtoget it.

 

Goal:Stable, permanenthome

“Ifyoulook atthestatistics, kidsthathaveavolunteerrep- resentingthemareinthesystem roughlyhalftheamountoftime thankidswhodonothavea vol- unteer.Ourkidsthathaveavol- unteerhavebetter educational outcomes,  theyarehalfaslike- lytocomebackintothesystem becausewehelpmakesurethat foundationisthere.

Wesavethecountiesthatwe areinalotofmoney.Education- aloutcomesarebettersoschools getmorefunding.Itcostsalotto havekidsinfoster care.

Prytherchadded,“Ihaveseen where thejudgeinthecourt- roomhasshushed everybody andpointedattheGuardianad Litemandsaidyou,youtellme whattodo.

Thegoalforeveryoneistoget these kidsinasafe,stable,per- manenthomeas quicklyas pos- sible.Thatistheendgoal.

Volunteer trainingtakes30 hourswithtraineesalsotaking partinacourtwatchprogramto viewactualcourt casesforan ad- ditionalthreehours.

For  moreinformationin  be- comingavolunteerGuardianad Litem,contactLaelPrytherchat

386-453-1362.

One Response to Circuit court seeking advocates for kids

  1. Pingback: Child custody, guardian ad litem question? | Attorney Ad Litem

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