The COVID-19 pandemic has taken an extraordinary toll on youth and families, amplifying stressful situations and exacerbating a variety of factors that can increase a youth’s likelihood of delinquent behavior. Locally, Teen Court of Sarasota is witnessing this trend as the organization has seen their number of referrals from law enforcement rise by more than 30 percent.
But we are not powerless in the face of these challenging circumstances. One promising factor is that the number of youth taken into custody and held in the juvenile justice system is trending down thanks to intervention and diversion programs like Teen Court.
Last year alone, the organization was able to provide peer-on-peer court sessions, group classes focused on the negative impact of drugs and alcohol, mentorship, and life skills training to more than 700 youth in the community. Completion of a Teen Court referral means the young person will not be arrested or expelled from school. Not only does the diversion of incarceration provide a second chance for the student, it also takes the strain and financial burden off of law enforcement and the justice system.
“We believe in teens helping teens, encouraging young people to help each other through a time of difficulty in their lives,” says Executive Director Heather Todd. “The quality provided through our case managers, intervention and prevention services continues to empower our students through experimental learning and peer on peer mentorship.”
To meet the growing need, Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation recently awarded the organization with a $125,000 to expand its services and hire additional case managers to support children.
The support is much needed, with more than 70% of participants who receive Teen Court’s services free of charge due to financial need. With the average time spent of 5 months with Teen Court and the inclusion of families into the healing process, the funding has eliminated the cost for services which in turn eliminates the stress a family feels when they are going through the program.
“The generous capacity building grant will allow us to accommodate the growing number of students referred to Teen Court for meaningful consequences, positive redirection, and services,” says Todd. “We hope more in the community will join us in this support.”