Welcome to the new DJJ Website!
Find out how to use the new site.


Palm Beach Post commentary: New DJJ roadmap guides teens from delinquency


By Stephen Bardy

Dec. 26, 2012

The line between rebellion and delinquency is often fine. But it is there – and the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice has intensified its commitment to help prevent more children and teens from crossing it.

Working with organizations throughout Florida, DJJ is investing in quality services to guide youth toward positive decision-making and behaviors; without such measures, many would cross the line, throwing away their dreams and their futures … only to leave tax payers to shoulder the costs of their incarceration. In that scenario, lives shatter, families break, victims and perpetrators increase and communities suffer.

DJJ understands this well, and Secretary Wansley Walters’ new Roadmap to System Excellence aims to prevent such paths of destruction. Instead of labeling challenging teens as “delinquent” and locking them up, DJJ collaborates with communities to help youth change their behaviors by understanding their potential and realizing consequences of their choices.

Though increasingly ambitious, this is not new territory for DJJ; for decades, it has partnered with the Florida Network and affiliated organizations, such as Children’s Home Society of Florida, to serve families with teens traveling risky roads, from truancy or running away to falling in with the wrong crowd or harmfully expressing aggression.

Through counseling, coaching, connecting and guiding, our organizations have successfully diverted countless teens from delinquency. Does it happen overnight? No. Is it easy? Absolutely not. But it works – and it is worthwhile.

The success of such programs encouraged DJJ’s Roadmap, which places even greater value on services that can prevent juvenile incarceration. Recently, the department piloted a probation respite program that offers intensive, short-term residential services for teens who have already become involved in the juvenile justice system. Through this initiative, teens learn responsibility, behavior accountability, respect and direction – and they often leave the program ready to embrace positive opportunities.

In Palm Beach County, this program literally changed the life of a 15-year-old headed for years of trouble. Her rebellion began with truancy. Then, her behavior escalated. Before long, she became involved with drugs and older men. She initiated aggressive domestic disputes.

Her parents feared for her safety, their safety and their family’s future.

She could have been locked up. Instead, she entered the DJJ probation respite program.

Surrounded by trained, encouraging professionals in a stable, structured environment, this teenager learned accountability. She began to take responsibility for her actions. She began to see the consequences of her lifestyle. She accepted the challenge to change.

Was she a juvenile delinquent? She could have been. But, through DJJ’s commitment to redirection, she instead attends school regularly, keeps up with her homework and looks forward to a future filled with possibilities. A future that includes societal contributions – not societal burdens.

DJJ’s deliberate focus on diverting youth from the justice system has already proven to redirect troubled teens, stabilize families and strengthen support systems. As the department intensifies efforts and community collaborations, our community will reap the benefits.

Stephen Bardy is Executive Director of Children’s Home Society of Florida in Palm Beach County.