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The Florida Statutes

The 2023 Florida Statutes (including Special Session C)

Title V
Chapter 39
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F.S. 39.8296
39.8296 Statewide Guardian Ad Litem Office; legislative findings and intent; creation; appointment of executive director; duties of office.
(a) The Legislature finds that for the past 20 years, the Guardian Ad Litem Program has been the only mechanism for best interest representation for children in Florida who are involved in dependency proceedings.
(b) The Legislature also finds that while the Guardian Ad Litem Program has been supervised by court administration within the circuit courts since the program’s inception, there is a perceived conflict of interest created by the supervision of program staff by the judges before whom they appear.
(c) The Legislature further finds that the Governor’s Blue Ribbon Task Force concluded that “if there is any program that costs the least and benefits the most, this one is it,” and that the guardian ad litem volunteer is an “indispensable intermediary between the child and the court, between the child and DCF.”
(d) It is therefore the intent of the Legislature to place the Guardian Ad Litem Program in an appropriate place and provide a statewide infrastructure to increase functioning and standardization among the local programs currently operating in the 20 judicial circuits.
(2) STATEWIDE GUARDIAN AD LITEM OFFICE.There is created a Statewide Guardian Ad Litem Office within the Justice Administrative Commission. The Justice Administrative Commission shall provide administrative support and service to the office to the extent requested by the executive director within the available resources of the commission. The Statewide Guardian Ad Litem Office is not subject to control, supervision, or direction by the Justice Administrative Commission in the performance of its duties, but the employees of the office are governed by the classification plan and salary and benefits plan approved by the Justice Administrative Commission.
(a) The head of the Statewide Guardian Ad Litem Office is the executive director, who shall be appointed by the Governor from a list of a minimum of three eligible applicants submitted by a Guardian Ad Litem Qualifications Committee. The Guardian Ad Litem Qualifications Committee shall be composed of five persons, two persons appointed by the Governor, two persons appointed by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and one person appointed by the Statewide Guardian Ad Litem Association. The committee shall provide for statewide advertisement and the receiving of applications for the position of executive director. The Governor shall appoint an executive director from among the recommendations, or the Governor may reject the nominations and request the submission of new nominees. The executive director must have knowledge in dependency law and knowledge of social service delivery systems available to meet the needs of children who are abused, neglected, or abandoned. The executive director shall serve on a full-time basis and shall personally, or through representatives of the office, carry out the purposes and functions of the Statewide Guardian Ad Litem Office in accordance with state and federal law. The executive director shall report to the Governor. The executive director shall serve a 3-year term, subject to removal for cause by the Governor. Any person appointed to serve as the executive director may be permitted to serve more than one term.
(b) The Statewide Guardian Ad Litem Office shall, within available resources, have oversight responsibilities for and provide technical assistance to all guardian ad litem and attorney ad litem programs located within the judicial circuits.
1. The office shall identify the resources required to implement methods of collecting, reporting, and tracking reliable and consistent case data.
2. The office shall review the current guardian ad litem programs in Florida and other states.
3. The office, in consultation with local guardian ad litem offices, shall develop statewide performance measures and standards.
4. The office shall develop a guardian ad litem training program, which shall include, but is not limited to, training on the recognition of and responses to head trauma and brain injury in a child under 6 years of age. The office shall establish a curriculum committee to develop the training program specified in this subparagraph. The curriculum committee shall include, but not be limited to, dependency judges, directors of circuit guardian ad litem programs, active certified guardians ad litem, 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.
5. The office shall review the various methods of funding guardian ad litem programs, maximize the use of those funding sources to the extent possible, and review the kinds of services being provided by circuit guardian ad litem programs.
6. The office shall determine the feasibility or desirability of new concepts of organization, administration, financing, or service delivery designed to preserve the civil and constitutional rights and fulfill other needs of dependent children.
7. In an effort to promote normalcy and establish trust between a court-appointed volunteer guardian ad litem and a child alleged to be abused, abandoned, or neglected under this chapter, a guardian ad litem may transport a child. However, a guardian ad litem volunteer may not be required or directed by the program or a court to transport a child.
8. The office shall submit to the Governor, the President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court an interim report describing the progress of the office in meeting the goals as described in this section. The office shall submit to the Governor, the President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court a proposed plan including alternatives for meeting the state’s guardian ad litem and attorney ad litem needs. This plan may include recommendations for less than the entire state, may include a phase-in system, and shall include estimates of the cost of each of the alternatives. Each year the office shall provide a status report and provide further recommendations to address the need for guardian ad litem services and related issues.
History.s. 1, ch. 2003-53; s. 91, ch. 2003-399; s. 1, ch. 2006-18; s. 5, ch. 2012-123; s. 7, ch. 2020-6; s. 6, ch. 2020-40.