Stacy Gromatski: Roadmap to system excellence


Florida Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Wansley Walters speaks during a town hall meeting at Santa Fe College on Tuesday, Nov. 27, in Gainesville.

File photo
Published: Friday, November 30, 2012 at 6:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, November 29, 2012 at 2:38 p.m.

The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) officials and staff are traveling around the state to educate stakeholders and citizens on the reach of its new “Roadmap to System Excellence” plan. What the plan does is sets Florida on a new path in this endlessly fraught area of juvenile delinquency and its prevention. As president/CEO of the Florida Network, I stand with DJJ secretary Wansley Walters and this bold plan.

For too long, Florida has played defense. In football, some say defense wins games, but a good, solid offensive strategy that anticipates, collaborates, makes use of best practices and relies on the traditional safety valves of family and community, will have a much more cost-effective result than a system that preferences the delinquency end. What we want for high-risk teens who are making mistakes typical of adolescents is not bars and cells, but an environment that matches their needs.

One effective and cost-efficient prevention program is the Florida Network of Youth and Family Services, funded by DJJ. For 35 years, we have been at the forefront of prevention, doing our best to guide policy in a direction that yields the greatest good for the 31 agencies we represent as an umbrella organization, and their work on behalf of a vulnerable young population.

Here in Gainesville is the CDS Family & Behavioral Health Services. It works with youths in a rough spot, with problems at home or in school, or who are homeless; in essence, “throwaways,” the ones we often forget in a world full of distraction and busyness. Our other 30 agencies do similar work within their communities, and what the Florida Network does is provide support services in the areas of contract management, training, quality assurance, data collection and a host of other oversight activities.

Our work is crucial to helping these local agencies do the healing that they accomplish, and we believe in operating at the greatest operational efficiency so that the greatest number of dollars go to on-the-ground work. In fact, both DJJ and the Justice Research Center have written reports that demonstrate that our programs have a 90-percent success rate.

Moreover, a study conducted in 2011 found that, for every dollar spent within Florida Network agencies, the Florida taxpayer saved $5.50. In other words, there is a return of 5-and-a-half times the initial investment.

The “Roadmap” that Secretary Walters envisions gives us greater room to do right thing for the youths who need our programs, doing it in a way that reaches them when they need it most. In the end, saving lives. And as a secondary benefit, saving dollars.

With this new turn in DJJ’s direction, prevention services advocates find themselves being heard. There’s nothing like having the wind at your back, the ball in play and lady luck on your side. Every day, we have worked extremely hard to weed out bad practices, self-correct and constantly scrutinize our data for results and forward-looking ideas.

Along with supporting Secretary Walters’ Roadmap, we propose some “right sizing” of our own. We offer proposals and ideas for the upcoming legislative session. With an improved fiscal outlook, we hope to increase the services we provide to rural communities, which often do without. We want trained nurses to help us care for the medical needs of the youths being served in our facilities. We expect to add another 730 beds to help young people who have avoided the deep end.

DJJ Secretary Walters is a breath of fresh air. The DJJ mentality and culture is changing under her watch; her innovation and smart thinking will enhance our system. I look forward to working with her as we enter this new era of innovation and new beginnings.

We look forward to broad support for this paradigm shift within the juvenile justice area. We consider it heroic. Together we can stop damaging young lives, instead giving them a second chance and a hand up. It suggests a great truism: A good offense is a good defense.

Stacy Gromatski is president/CEO of the Florida Network of Youth and Family Services. She can be reached at stacy@floridanetwork.org

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