A longtime advocate for children and girls, Amy Foster is adding a new role to her extensive resume — executive director of the Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) Foundation for Florida’s 6th Judicial Circuit.
“I’m really excited to be able to impact youth locally,” said the newest St. Petersburg City Council member, adding there are “lots of changes that need to happen” in Florida’s child welfare system, which is where the GAL program comes in.
Beginning August 4, Foster will lead the all-volunteer GAL Foundation, which supports the statewide Guardian ad Litem Program to aid abused and neglected children who are subject of court proceedings.
The main role of the Foundation, a state-mandated 501(C) nonprofit, is to fill in the gaps of the courts are not able to provide, such as extracurricular activities for dependent children.
In addition to monitoring day-to-day operations, Foster will also guide the Foundation’s fundraising efforts, which cover the entire 6th Judicial Circuit, and its three offices in Pinellas, East and West Pasco.
Members of the GAL program conduct thorough investigations on behalf of dependent children, interviewing all the people involved in a child’s life, including counselors, medical professionals, people from the neighborhood, schools, churches, law enforcement, and friends. They also monitor agencies and persons providing services, making sure orders of the court are carried out, and families and children receive the necessary help.
Acting as the voice for children in the courts, GAL participants assure the child’s wishes are heard, and the best interests of the child are represented. Verbal and written reports are submitted to the court, which becomes part of the child’s permanent record.
Foster will lead the GAL Foundation team, which works with case coordinators and attorneys as they work assigned cases. A GAL, which must be at least 21 years old with no felony record, does not need to be a lawyer, counselor, therapist or even a parent. He or she should be a person capable of helping a child in crisis, and able to devote about 4-6 hours a month to help the child.
“Often, (GAL caseworkers) are the only constant in a child’s life,” Foster says, which make the GAL a “key component” in the health and well-being of kids caught up in Florida’s court system.
Foster — in addition to becoming a City Council member — has amassed a long list of child advocacy positions. She was National Program Manager of the National Girls Collaborative Project (NGCP), a group managed by EdLab Group, an educational innovation company. The NGCP encourages gender equality by encouraging girls to pursue careers in Science, Math and Technology.
Foster also previously served as Chair-Elect of Membership Training for the Junior League of Clearwater-Dunedin and is a former Vice President of St. Pete Pride.
As for her first six months on the City Council, Foster said she was “very grateful” to work with a board that allows her the flexibility to pursue projects such as the GAL Foundation.