St. Thomas Law alumna Maria Suarez ’17 has been recognized as the Attorney of the Year for the Guardian Ad Litem Program in Miami-Dade county.
Maria is a Child’s Best Interest Attorney for the State of Florida Guardian ad Litem Program in the Eleventh Judicial Circuit. The program protects the best interests of Florida’s abused, abandoned and neglected children, and depends on Volunteer Child Advocates who speak on behalf of these children with the goal of finding children safe, loving and permanent homes.
“I put in a lot of time and effort, often after normal work hours, to ensure that all matters relating to the children on my caseload are addressed and advocated for,” states Maria. Her detailed approach and sincere concern have been described as exemplary. In fact, during her very first Termination of Parental Rights (TPR) trial the judge commended her on her closing argument.
Maria’s commitment to children was best exemplified this past year in a case where she zealously advocated for the adoption of two siblings by a particular foster family.
This was a four-year old case that she inherited weeks before an ARC ( Adoption Applicant Review Committee) hearing to determine whether the children would be adopted by their pre-adoptive foster parents, where the children’s therapist opined they were thriving (and the guardian ad litem steadfastly recommended) or by a relative who had previously had them in her care but returned them to foster care several years before.
Maria was facing opposition from the case management agency which favored the relatives to be the adoptive placement but, knowing that the long history of the case was key to proving that the better placement for the children was with the foster parents, she spent hours going through files and communicating with the guardian ad litem team and other individuals outside of the program to create a detailed timeline of the case. Ultimately, the children were adopted by the foster parents and the Judge noted that the adoption would not have happened if it was not for Maria’s diligent efforts.
As a student at St. Thomas Law, Maria demonstrated her commitment to children by volunteering as a guardian ad litem and also assisting the legal team as an intern. After graduating, Maria worked as a Children’s Legal Services (CLS) attorney, but soon found her way back to the Guardian ad Litem Program as a Child’s Best Interest Attorney. We salute her not just for winning this recognition, but also for the difference she is making in the lives of these children every day.