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Agency Head Defends Guardian Ad Litem, Questions Audit Findings

The Executive Director of Florida’s Guardian ad Litem programs defended his agency today before a Senate panel. A recent state audit of the program found it was able to hire more staff with increased state funding but wasn’t serving more kids.

Guardian ad Litem Executive Director Alan Abromowitz says in five years, the program saw a one-time increase of $10 million, money he says the legislature earmarked for more staff but not to expand youth representation.

"It was for quality, for improvements, volunteer travel and trainers. But it was not for expanded representation, we’ve always met our obligation to the legislature on those issues," he said Tuesday before the Senate's Children and Families Committee.

The Guardian ad Litem program provides advocates to kids in the state welfare system. But the audit says many children in the system don’t have advocates. State auditors also questioned the agency’s role in providing those services, but Abromowitz believes the audit got some things wrong.

“We never saw the report before it came out. We would have loved to have gotten some time to meet with them and talk more after we saw it, and talk more about those issues," he said.

The state says the agency did get to see the preliminary findings but not the final version. Guardian ad Litem has long been praised as a bright spot in the state’s child welfare system.

Committee Chairwoman Lauren Book says the committee will continue to look into issues raised by the audit. Republican Senator Jason Brodeur also questioned the findings and noting a potential sample bias in how many lawyers were interviewed. Brodeur says lawyers have pushed for years to represent kids in dependency cases, reducing the role of Guardian ad Litem’s volunteers.

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Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas. She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. When she’s not working, Lynn spends her time watching sci-fi and action movies, writing her own books, going on long walks through the woods, traveling and exploring antique stores. Follow Lynn Hatter on Twitter: @HatterLynn.