Some problems that seem too big to solve, may get better when communities work together.
In 2012, the Gainesville Police Department uncovered some disturbing facts, black youth were four times more likely to be referred to the juvenile justice system than white youth for similar offenses. GPD developed:
- alternatives to arrests with the help of Meridian Behavioral Services and the Corner Drug Store.
- options other than arrest for officers and supervisors to use.
- demanded Civil Citations rather than arrests for first time misdemeanor offenses
In order to intervene early before bad behavior becomes chronic, GPD:
- engaged in officer training
- coordinated meetings to improve mental health services delivered to students and schools
- developed a System of Care to provide resources to families (mental health, outreach, tutoring etc.)
- tracked progress through data collection
The Center for Children’s Law and Policy gave GPD a grant (only one of two awarded in 2012); the initiative grew and arrests plummeted. On campus arrests dropped 31%. Total black juvenile arrests decreased 44%. Teen courts were used for many offenses.
Dozens of agencies had stepped up. Then the program had to be institutionalized to ensure it would continue. Alachua County Schools stepped up. The System of Care
began in seven schools–4 elementary and 3 middle. Ten percent of the students with serious disciplinary problems were identified. Fifty-three parents agreed to participate. Each school had a social worker to coordinate care. After only eight months, some children are thriving. Others are making progress.
Now the challenge is to scale up the program to serve more families. The League held a Hot Topic last week to help spread the word. We learned about ways communities can work together to help children with traumatic life events find ways to cope. The school is the center of a community hub. Bringing services in to the center may be a more efficient and effective way to help children. Helping some children helps all children feel safe and secure. In the long run, suspending children leads nowhere good.