Representation of Children in Child Abuse and Neglect Proceedings - Florida

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Making The Appointment

Citation: Ann. Stat. §§ 39.822; 39.820; 39.4085, Fla. R. Juv. P. Rule 8.215(a), (b); 8.217(a)

A guardian ad litem (GAL) shall be appointed by the court at the earliest possible time to represent the child in any child abuse, abandonment, or neglect judicial proceeding, whether civil or criminal.

A GAL can be any of the following:

  • The Statewide Guardian Ad Litem Office, which includes circuit guardian ad litem programs
  • A duly certified volunteer
  • A staff member, staff attorney, contract attorney, or pro bono attorney working on behalf of a GAL program
  • A court-appointed attorney
  • A responsible adult who is appointed by the court to represent the best interests of a child involved in a proceeding

The legislature establishes the following goals for children in shelter or foster care: to have a GAL appointed to represent, within reason, their best interests and, where appropriate, an attorney ad litem appointed to represent their legal interests.

In court rules: At any stage of the proceedings, any party may request or the court may appoint a GAL to represent any child alleged to be dependent. The court shall appoint a GAL to represent the child in any proceeding as required by law and shall ascertain at each stage of the proceeding whether a GAL should be appointed if one has not yet been appointed.

At any stage of the proceedings, any party may request or the court may consider whether an attorney ad litem is necessary to represent any child alleged or found to be dependent, if one has not already been appointed.

The Use of Court-Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs)

Citation: Fla. R. Juv. P. Rule 8.215(c)

The GAL shall be a responsible adult, who may or may not be an attorney, or a certified GAL program.

Qualifications/Training

Citation: Ann. Stat. §§ 39.821; 39.8296; 39.0139(4)(a)

The GAL program shall conduct a security background investigation before certifying a volunteer to serve. A security background investigation must include, but need not be limited to, the following:

  • Employment history checks
  • Checks of references
  • Local criminal records checks through local law enforcement agencies
  • Statewide criminal records checks through the Department of Law Enforcement

A security background investigation conducted under this section must ensure that a person is not certified as a GAL if the person has an arrest awaiting final disposition for, been convicted of (regardless of adjudication), entered a plea of nolo contendere or guilty to, or been adjudicated delinquent and the record has not been sealed or expunged for, any offense prohibited under § 435.04. All applicants must undergo a level 2 background screening pursuant to chapter 435 before being certified to serve as a GAL.

In analyzing and evaluating the information obtained in the security background investigation, the program must give particular emphasis to activities involving children, including, but not limited to, child-related criminal offenses or child abuse.

This section does not apply to a GAL who was certified before October 1, 1995; an attorney who is a member in good standing of the Florida Bar; or a licensed professional who has undergone a comparable security background investigation as a condition of licensure within 5 years of applying for certification as a GAL.

The Statewide Guardian Ad Litem Office shall develop a GAL training program that shall include, but be not limited to, training on the recognition of and responses to head trauma and brain injury in a child under age 6. The office shall establish a curriculum committee to develop the training program. The curriculum committee shall include, but not be limited to, dependency judges, directors of circuit GAL programs, active certified GALs, a mental health professional who specializes in the treatment of children, a member of a child advocacy group, a representative of a domestic violence advocacy group, an individual with a degree in social work, and a social worker experienced in working with victims and perpetrators of child abuse.

Attorneys ad litem appointed pursuant to the Keeping Children Safe Act, specifically pertaining to sexual abuse, shall have special training in the dynamics of child sexual abuse.

Specific Duties

Citation: Ann. Stat. § 39.822; Fla. R. Juv. P. Rule 8.215(c), (f)

The GAL shall be allowed to inspect and copy any records related to the best interests of the child who is the subject of the appointment, including, but not limited to, confidential records. These records include, but are not limited to, medical, mental health, substance abuse, child care, education, law enforcement, court, social services, and financial records.

The GAL shall review all disposition recommendations and changes in placements, and he or she must be present at all critical stages of the dependency proceeding or submit a written report of recommendations to the court. Written reports must be filed with the court and served on all parties whose whereabouts are known at least 72 hours prior to the hearing.

In court rules: The GAL shall have the following responsibilities:

  • To gather information concerning the allegations of the petition and any subsequent matters arising in the case and, unless excused by the court, to file a written report
  • To be present at all court hearings, unless excused by the court
  • To represent the interests of the child until the jurisdiction of the court over the child terminates or until excused by the court
  • To perform such other duties as are consistent with the scope of the appointment

The written report shall include a summary of the GAL's findings, a statement of the wishes of the child, and the recommendations of the GAL. The report shall be provided to all parties and the court at least 72 hours before the hearing for which the report is prepared.

The duties of lay guardians shall not include the practice of law.

How the Representative Is Compensated

Citation: Ann. Stat. § 39.822(2)

In cases in which the parents are financially able, the parent or parents of the child shall reimburse the court, in part or in whole, for the cost of provision of GAL services. Reimbursement to the individual providing GAL services shall not be contingent upon successful collection by the court from the parent or parents.