If it were just that simple…

Most who have spent any time here know I am a volunteer Guardian ad Litem. The State of Florida Guardian ad Litem Program is a network of professional staff and community advocates, partnering to provide a strong voice in court and positive systemic change on behalf of Florida’s abused and neglected children. There are 21 local Guardian ad Litem programs in 20 judicial circuits in Florida.

Why would you want do do something like that? Have you seen some of those people?

People, just like you and me and for some, just because of the luck of the draw, they ended up with a shit sandwich instead of filet mignon.

Were you abused or neglected?

Both my parents loved me very much, but that doesn’t mean I had it easy. My parents divorced in my early teens, my mother was an alcoholic, and my dad and I moved away from the town I grew up in when I was 15. My dad was deeply enmeshed in his mid-life crisis and I was pretty much left to fend for myself during my formative teen years. I was so ill prepared for the next step after high school, I joined the Army; which ended up being a godsend, but I didn’t fully appreciate it at the time.

Somehow, someway I was able to use not only the bad experiences in my life, but the good ones as well to shape who I have ultimately become. I am nowhere near perfect, but do know I have been blessed in many ways to the point I feel an obligation to give back. Through the GAL program, I felt this was where I could really roll up my sleeves and hopefully make a difference on a one on one basis.

How is that working out?

Well, I was told whatever victories you have will be small ones at best. Without going into too much detail all I will say it is very sad to see how broken down some of these kids are and the realization in all likelihood, they can only survive within the system; our tax dollars at work.

It definitely gives me a reality check and makes me extra thankful for what I do have and not to be too judgmental unless you’ve had the opportunity to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.

How’s is working out? The jury is still out but I’d like to think I’m doing some good for somebody.

It can’t be that bad, can it?

Oh yeah, on so many levels.

Then just walk away

That would certainly be the easy thing to do, wouldn’t it?

I still have work to do

I have a current case where the children have been removed from the home and placed in foster care. The case is over one year old and I would like to say we are close to resolution, but I now have my doubts.

The parents say they want the children back and have somewhat complied with the case plan, but one of the spouses keeps going off the rails and it’s getting to the point where I am not sure if reunification will ever happen for them. And the state is not asking the parents to jump through hoops, all we want to see is the absolute bare minimum of compliance.

You make the call.

There are many people involved in this case including the case manager and therapist so I am not the hammer that goes in front of the judge with sole discretion on the outcome. But here are the choices we are faced with:

  • The kids (there are five of them) are reunified with their parents and it rapidly goes back to the same situation that got the kids removed from the house in the first place. Personally, I have serious doubts if these parents can afford to properly feed or clothe these children, but like I said just the absolute bare minimum of care will get these kids back home.

That sucks.

No kidding, and that is probably the best of the two other choices.

  • Choice two: foster care. Because of the behavioral issues these kids have I think it will be almost impossible to keep these kids together as a family unit. The low hanging fruit good kids will go first and the problem children are likely to get bounced from house to house.

Don’t let that happen.

I hear ya, I wish the parents would start parenting.

  • Good ol’ choice three: Group foster care. If any of the kids become too rowdy and can’t exist in the traditional foster home setting, they will be transferred to a group home, and to be institutionalized at such a young age is a recipe for disaster. You have other problem children in the home that have been cast out too and not enough supervision in the home so the chances of a good outcome are slim indeed.

Can’t you fix it?

Yeah, let me wave my magic wand and make everybody behave the way they are supposed to.

What I can do is keep trying. If I was able to even reach one kid so he could use this experience to better himself, I would certainly consider that a win.

Other than run for the hills, if you were faced with this dilemma, what would your choice be?


21 thoughts on “If it were just that simple…

  1. I relate to some of your experiences as a child. When I’ve been asked by those who know of my young life, “what would you change?”, I say: nothing. I am who I am as a result of where I’ve been, and I’m the master of my own destiny each and every day with the choices I make and the actions I take.

    But my heart goes out to those who experience trauma, tragedy, lack of love, neglect in their young lives. There are no easy answers: no easy solutions. I have so much admiration for the task you take on to be an advocate for these children. It takes broad shoulders, a warm heart and a compassionate but strong will to do so. Kudos to you.

    What would I do? I’d be like the young man and the starfish…”It makes a difference to that one.” Cheers! Snowshoes

    • Yep, sometimes there are no easy choices and when you are able, you can’t let your circumstances dictate who you become in a bad way but use it as the impetus to not perpetuate the problem.

  2. As Booker T. Washington often advised, I can only find these words to give to you – keep on keeping on.

    You’re doing good work. You’re going into the darkness, sir – bringing sparks of light where light does not go. I admire your courage.

    Do they have a GAD in every state?

    • Yes, in some states it is the Guardian ad Litem and in the western states it is called the CASA program.

      I certainly hope it’s doing some good as there is definitely some darkness that goes along as well.

  3. Hi Bill, I was just thinking of you and your GAL program yesterday. Yes, you are making a difference, an incredible difference. I greatly admire your desire to give back to the community and I understand your motivations. Thank God there are people like you who are helping those kids who drew the short straw in life.

    Since you asked…I would choose the second option, hoping that some of the kids in the family would have a chance then. The parents don’t seem able to cope and a group home seems like a recipe for disaster, as you said. Choice 2 seems like the best of the three options though none is ideal.

    Bless you, Bill.

    • You might be right; I have seen what option one looks like for these kids and it is a big ugly. I hate to say this, but I liken it to a burning house with five kids and you can only save 3, which 3 do you pick? Not a good choice regardless of who you pick, but there is one that is least of the bad options….

  4. Oh man you are an angel. Not one of those flashy LA Angels all blinged out but the real deal.

    I did street outreach for 3 yrs in Hollywood and Santa Monica for stand up for kids helping homeless kids get off the street. ReAlly eye opening. Also the other groups doing the same were all religion based and they made things worse. I won’t give a dime to the salvation army now. The kids said they preferred starving that going to them for help because if they didn’t accept Christ they wouldn’t get to eat. I thought Jesus would never let a kid go hungry plus he was Jewish we don’t talk salvation just banking and serving persecution.

    • Ah yes, the slippery slope of religion. I suppose if I picked the ‘right’ religion and everybody else is wrong, then I’m good to go. However, what if my Jewish buddy made the right pick, does that mean I am doomed to eternal damnation regardless of how good I am?

      Whatever is beyond this life, a loving God would not make it so exclusive that most of the people don’t get in.

      But I do think religion has a place in our society because so many good things are done for others because ‘it is the right thing to do.’ I also think it helps keep us ‘civilized.’

      However, faith based especially, should not be turning away the needy and people who need it most based on their beliefs….or lack thereof….

      All these gods were space aliens anyway who helped build the pyramids…just sayin’….

  5. Hi BIll! That’s a very tough one. I don’t know what I’d do. When I was just out of university, still considering a career as a social worker, I worked at a daycare for underprivileged children. In this place, the parents had to be involved or their children couldn’t attend. still I saw so much that summer that told me I didn’t have what it took to be a social worker. The power doesn’t lie with the social worker, but with the parents, and as you say, if they could only do their jobs. But they are caught in a cycle too – and their parents before them. This was what “Headstart” sought to do – break the cycle. But we know that is not easy.

    bare minimum doesn’t sound like a lot but they would be together and they will grow up together and then go out on their own. I guess I’d hope they could make it work as a family, however challenged that family situation is.

    What did happen? What was the outcome, or is it still undecided/

    • Still undecided and the mother was a victim of abuse herself and this is half the problem. Also, she’s only 25, addicted to Xanax and previously had two kids removed from their care and now these 5 are in limbo. And oh by the way, she’s pregnant and not sure if her husband is the father.

      When I say this stuff gets wacky, this is par for the course.

      On the surface you think ‘don’t let these kids go back home,’ but the alternative is equally bad if not worse in some cases.

      No easy answers…

  6. Hey Bill

    What you’re doing is admirable and I’m sure you make a huge difference.

    Like Carolyn, I’d go with option two as well. It’s hard to break up a family, particularly five kids but if their parents can’t cope or don’t want to then there really isn’t another option.

    A few years ago, when I was still doing the Classical music stuff, I helped out in a secure unit for kids. I guess it’s maybe one step further than group foster care.

    The kids had all sorts of issues and it was challenging to get them interested in anything but rewarding at the same time.

    We had to have at least two people in the room with the kids at all times for safety and security reasons!

    • And when you see kids like this and know it was not their fault, that’s where I find it hard to think we are ready to just throw in the towel on them.

      Like I said, if I can even help one kid find something positive in all this it would be a win. Not many wins in the ‘system’ however.

  7. I know too many of these stories from social workers in the family. It is heartbreaking to realize just how many kids get screwed because they got “lucky” and drew awful parents from the deck.

    But some do come out the other side because good people are there to help along the way, so it is not all bad news.

  8. Bill.

    You surely have heard the term Kaizen. If not, look it up. Relating Kaizen back to your story I would say even the smallest change for the better is more than these kids could ask for. It’s probably tough to get through to anyone in cases like this but the silver lining is that you are trying.


  9. Could have used you when I grew up, Bill – I had a wild childhood in a time when courts did not remove kids from their natural born parents. I finally “got away” when I was 13, so I have a lot of empathy for the kids you are impacting with your volunteer efforts. Luckily, I had a close relative who fought for me vs having to consider foster care.

    On behalf of them – thank you for your time and your commitment.

    • But you found a way to rise above it and succeed. In fact, you probably used the experience as your role model of what ‘not’ to do as a parent. I know I used similar experiences to shape the adult I became.

      It just shows it can be done and I wish more kids would realize that instead of thinking this is their ‘destiny.’

      Thanks for sharing and congrats on being a survivor.

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