Shelters and counseling for teens in need of funds

Published: Friday, January 17, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 17, 2003 at 1:05 a.m.

Children first. Will this cease to be the motto in Florida?

On an annual basis, 30,000 youth in crisis (and their families) access critical services at runaway shelters and counseling centers across Florida.

Some of these youth are runaway foster children, some are homeless "throwaway" children whose families have turned them out or they are fleeing unimaginable horrors in their homes.

Since 2000, runaway shelters and counseling centers have lost 25 percent of their budgets. If the cuts get any deeper, shelters and counseling centers all over Florida will close, leaving few, if any, options to families with troubled youth.

In North Central Florida, the Corner Drug Store has had to close its counseling services in eight of the counties surrounding Alachua County due to recent budget cuts. Shelters from the Panhandle to the Keys will close if there are further budget cuts.

The fate of youth and families in need will be determined by the governor's 2003-04 budget. Many of the youth served by shelters and counseling centers are at risk for becoming involved in drug abuse and crime.

A high percentage of juvenile crime is committed by children who are truant. Many of these youth eventually drop out of school when they don't receive needed services. The correlation between dropping out and a lifetime of crime is high.

We have an existing law in Florida that mandates that families in crisis can expect to receive help from the state to get young lives back on track before they enter costly state care, i.e. the juvenile justice system. This law protects Florida taxpayers as well as the children in need of intervention.

We have all heard the expression: "You can pay me now or you can pay me later." Prevention works and at a fraction of the cost of treatment and juvenile detention.

Florida Tax Watch has reported that it costs taxpayers more than four times as much to put a child in juvenile detention than it does to assist the family in resolving their problems before the situation gets out of hand.

Budget cuts to services for this at-risk group will have dire consequences to the families in need and the general public. I urge each of you to let Gov. Bush know that Florida needs runaway shelters and counseling centers for our youth in need.

Any further cuts will close these centers and we will all pay in the end. You can contact the governor's office at (850) 488-4441 or via e-mail at

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