Using Scorecards to Promote Accountability in Advocacy

Alan AbramowitzAlan Abramowitz, Executive Director, Florida Guardian ad Litem Program

Summary: The author explains how the Florida Guardian ad Litem Program is assessing the program’s overall effectiveness and quantifying the influence that GAL volunteers can have on improving child welfare outcomes using a guardian ad litem scorecard.


Florida’s guardian ad litem (GAL) advocacy team comprises 539 staff members, more than 8,000 volunteer advocates and more than 20 nonprofit organizations that pursue safety, permanency and well-being for children through a public/private partnership model.* With a focus on transparency and accountability for limited public resources, the program was recognized in 2012 as a state Prudential-Davis Productivity Eagle Award winner for “streamlining efficiencies to focus on commitment to children.” This award highlighted our programs’ use of volunteer resources to make the program more efficient and effective. The Florida Guardian ad Litem Program is a member of the National CASA Association.

When Florida Governor Rick Scott took office in January 2010, he brought with him the tools of for-profit hospital management, including the use of scorecards used to track performance on key indicators and link strategic direction to operational tactics. Scott challenged executive agencies to develop their own scorecards not only for strategic management, but also as a communication tool for informing the public and ensuring transparency and accountability with tax dollars. The GAL program’s scorecard process grew out of this challenge; it is a natural extension of the program’s commitment to accountability not just for children, but also for judges, taxpayers and volunteers.

The first step in building the scorecard was the development of valid and reliable measures. In this effort, we engaged many partners: the state child welfare agency, volunteers, program staff, advocates and staff from the legislature and the governor’s office. Yet, the most important voices came from the youth we serve through our “A Voice Heard” initiative. Using a statewide survey of children and teens in the child welfare system, the GAL program identified critical concerns that young people feel are important. Through these voices, we learned that four issues were of paramount concern:

  • Personal Interest: Caring, concern and emotional support
  • Advocacy: Judicial, educational and situational
  • Communication: Talking, listening and understanding
  • Trust: Responsiveness, honesty and reliability

The result was a scorecard that focuses on a causal relationship between two critical components:

1) Program effectiveness measures that are within the control of the GAL program staff and volunteers. These are measures include recruitment, retention and administration of the program and have a direct impact on child representation.

2) Child welfare outcome measures. These are important measures that the GAL program can influence. There are national studies demonstrating that children have better outcomes when a volunteer child advocate is assigned to their cases.

Florida’s GAL scorecard was implemented in June 2012. It is now produced monthly and highlighted on the program’s website. It tracks 14 measures for each of the state’s 20 judicial circuits, and gives an aggregate score (rank) to each circuit based on performance. Two examples of scorecard measures that focus on program effectiveness are:

  • Percentage of Volunteers Certified as Educational Advocates: A cornerstone belief of the GAL program is that successful educational advocacy equates to better child outcomes. Volunteers are therefore encouraged to become trained educational advocates. By tracking the percentage of volunteers who are trained as educational advocates, the program spotlights the “Advocacy” element of the “A Voice Heard” initiative. Acquiring these educational advocacy skills through training allows volunteer advocates to enhance their overall effectiveness in critical educational, judicial and best interest situations.
  • Percentage of Appointed Children Assigned to Volunteers: This measure reflects the efficiency of the GAL program in recruiting, training and supporting certified volunteers. It focuses on the “A Voice Heard” initiative response elements relating to “Personal Interest.” Personal interest may not exist when a child does not have a volunteer child advocate assigned to him to care, show concern and give emotional support. This measure also closely correlates to the “A Voice Heard” initiative element of “Trust,” which highlights responsiveness and reliability.

The guardian ad litem scorecard is designed to be an evolving tool to assess the program’s overall effectiveness and to quantify the influence that volunteer advocates can have on improving child welfare outcomes. Through the use of this scorecard, we aim to:

  • Increase GAL program child representation and advocacy effectiveness. This directly supports comments and concerns from children who participated in the statewide survey “A Voice Heard” initiative
  • Improve overall child welfare outcomes for dependent children

For a detailed discussion of the measures and their use, go to: http://www.guardianadlitem.org/Documents/Scorecards/About%20the%20GAL%20Balanced%20Scorecard%20October%202012.pdf

The scorecard will also provide the GAL program leadership team with a framework to identify and define opportunities for improvement.
Every day, judges make life-changing decisions affecting children, often basing those decisions on the recommendation of a guardian ad litem volunteer. Use of the GAL scorecard can only strengthen our capacity to advise, because if we do this right, no one knows the child better than a GAL volunteer.

*Editor’s note: CASA programs are referred to as guardian ad litem (GAL) programs in some states, including Florida.

 

Author biography:

Alan Abramowitz is the executive director of the Florida State Guardian ad Litem Program. Previous experiences include serving as state director of child welfare, regional director and chief legal counsel for the Florida Department of Children and Families, and working as assistant general counsel for the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice.

Abramowitz holds a juris doctorate from Florida State University, and master’s degrees in public administration and sociology and a bachelor's degree in psychology from Kansas State University.

Abramowitz’s volunteer service includes working with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Kenya and serving in the Peace Corps in Thailand.



 

National CASA Association | 800.628.3233 | 100 West Harrison, North Tower, Suite 500, Seattle, WA 98119 | staff@casaforchildren.org

National CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) ©2015. The National CASA logo, CASA ®, "A Powerful Voice in a Child’s Life," "Stand Up for an Abused Child," "Speak Up for a Child," "Light of Hope" and "Give the Light of Hope to a Child" are all registered trademarks of National CASA.