Many young people yearn for their 21st birthday so they can partake in the rites of passage that accompany reaching that milestone. For Taylor Greenberg, 21 meant more than having a drink with friends to celebrate. Her present came in the form of accepting her first case as a volunteer child advocate for the Guardian ad Litem Program.
A Guardian ad Litem (GAL) is a specially trained, court-appointed advocate who solely and objectively represents the best interests of child victims of alleged abuse, abandonment, or neglect. These volunteers serve as the voice of the child in an overburdened child welfare system, ensuring children’s lives do not fall through the cracks as they journey through dependency.
Steinger, Iscoe, & Greene dedicates a large part of the practice to advocating on behalf of victims of any form of child abuse. Founding partner, Michael Steinger, believes “…attorneys stand in a unique place to help families and individual victims of abuse.” In that vein, the Steinger, Iscoe & Greene Law Scholarship for Child Advocates was created to honor law school students who are survivors of child abuse or have dedicated their time and talents to protecting child victims of abuse, abandonment, and neglect.
Greenberg, who originally heard of the Guardian ad Litem program from one of her sorority sisters, contacted the local GAL program, explained that she was only 20 years old, and expressed her desire to complete all necessary training to be “…given the responsibility and privilege to advocate for the best interest…” of children in her county upon turning 21.
That privilege was granted and, to date, Greenberg has advocated for 16 children, ages 9 months to 16 years old, serving as a Guardian ad Litem for Leon, Seminole, and Pinellas counties. Her fire for advocacy extends to the classroom;Greenberg dedicated a year of service working with at-risk teens an AmeriCorps Pathways to Success Team Member in a Title I high school in Orlando, Florida..
During this time Greenberg met Brandon, a 16 year old who had been in and out of foster care; let down by just about every adult with whom he had crossed paths. Greenberg did more than tell Brandon she would be there for him, she showed him, advocating at every turn for his best interest. Brandon now says that without Greenberg, his life would look a lot different. As he looks forward to completing high school and entering college, he acknowledges that the trajectory he was on would have lead him to jail.
Post law school, Greenberg’s intent is to take the knowledge she has gained as a boots-on-the-ground soldier in the child-advocacy effort and create a plan to implement policy changes to positively impact the way in which children are treated. Her intent is to begin at the state level, expanding nationwide with each success. From her perspective, there are three imperatives we must work towards where our children are concerned: (1) more training, support, and funding for child advocacy programs, (2) improved stakeholder communication to include families, case workers, court personnel, and GALs, and (3) quicker implementation and enhanced quality and consistency of services offered as part of child welfare initiatives.
In the state of Florida alone, there are close to 31,000 children involved in child welfare cases. Of those, only about 18,000 have a Guardian ad Litem assigned to their case. The shortfall is tremendous, and the program is always seeking volunteers to serve as child advocates. Of her experience, Greenberg shares, “…there is no greater gift than advocating for a child.” To her contemporaries, she says, “If you feel you could be doing something more, this will be the most meaningful thing you have ever taken on in your life.”
The Steinger, Iscoe, and Greene firm is ecstatic about Greenberg’s efforts to date, wishes her well in her future endeavors, and looks forward to hearing of all of the good she will continue to do on behalf of those who are, all too often, left without a voice.