Patricia Alten has been an attorney for Family Law & Adoptions and Attorney ad Litem for children in dependency more than a decade. Her journey to representing children began when she started providing attorney services for the Guardian Ad Litem organization (GAL) for teens in Pinellas County. A GAL is a lawyer who represents a child in juvenile or family court. In this capacity, she considers the best interests of the child and may perform a variety of roles, including those of independent investigator, advocate, advisor, and guardian for the child. Patricia reflects back on this time. “After I did about sixty cases, I loved it. It’s something that I love.”
An Important Discovery
Last fall, Patricia attended a meeting regarding children who do not have a permanent placement. She recognized a teen’s name on the list, Caitlyn*. “I saw her name, and asked why this child had not been adopted?” Patricia said. “I thought the grandmother was to adopt her.”
As it turned out, the child’s grandmother found herself unable to adopt her, so Caitlyn was placed in foster care. However, the foster parent was unable to continue caring for her. Without a stable home environment, Caitlyn’s behavior became erratic, and her grades began to suffer and wasn’t adjusting well in the foster placement. Patricia knew her mother, Sherri*, and reached out to her.
Setting Things in Motion
“I heard about all the changes Sherri had done in her life — big changes. Had a great job, had a home, she had gotten married, she and her husband went through journeys of growth that were really important. They had a warm and inviting and environmentally safe home to provide for Caitlyn.” Patricia was aware of a newer statute in the state of Florida that Sherri’s case met the criteria for reunification. Patricia asked if she would like her to file a motion on her behalf. Sherri was tearfully overjoyed! The motion was made to reinstate Sherri’s parental rights and complete the road to reunification.
Back at Home
Not long ago, Caitlyn was failing nearly all of her classes. She was suffering from trauma: the loss of her family, constant changing of homes, feeling completely lost. In February, the judge placed her with her mother after seeing Sherri indeed met the criteria of the statute and completed the goals she needed to for reunification.
“Since she’s been with her mom and at the new school, she’s doing really well.” Patricia said. “She now is in ROTC, which has been good for her to make new friends, and I hear she loves her school and she’s very happy.” Caitlyn’s grades have improved. She has room to grow and blossom. Sherri is thrilled! She worked very hard and was highly motivated to make the changes needed to be with her daughter again. When there were challenges, Sherri quickly took action to rectify, to create a safe and stable environment for her daughter.
Patricia feels great joy to see the children she represents become reunified with their families. “I have an absolute passion for kids,” Patricia says. “I’m convinced that when a reunification journey is performed with determination from everyone involved, almost all of the children can be reunified.”
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*Names have been changed for privacy purposes