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Youthful Misdeeds Continue to Impact Adulthood – Even in the Senate

The importance of legislation that expunges juvenile records at an earlier age was illustrated with a lighthearted political hazing when SB 386 was heard in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. Representative Chris Latvala (R-Clearwater) presented the bill that would expunge selected juvenile criminal records automatically when young adults reach the age of 21, an important contrast to the current practice of doing so at age 24. Speaking on behalf of the bill’s sponsor, Senator Nancy Detert (R-Sarasota), Latvala explained that “kids do foolish things” and that minor offenses shouldn’t be allowed to ruin their futures. After being grilled by the...

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“System Failure” Present in Two Tragic Child Deaths

Standing before the Senate Children, Families, and Elder Affairs Committee, Department of Children and Families Secretary Mike Carroll answered pointed questions about the two most recent tragic child deaths that have rocked the state. Janiya, an eleven-year-old Manatee county girl who appears to have suffered a lifetime of abuse, was found in a freezer following the arrest of her mother for failing to disclose her whereabouts. The last time Janiya was seen was in June of 2014, but she was not found until October of this year. Recently released reports indicate that her mother was investigated by DCF more than...

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DOH Again Faces Tough Questions about Children’s Health

Standing before a panel of senators from the Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee, Department of Health (DOH) Chief Operating Officer Jennifer Tschetter faced probing questions about the agency’s treatment of special-needs and medically needy children. Thousands of children have been screened out of Children’s Medical Services Network (CMS Network), the state’s collection of programs for children with the most severe medical issues, into less expensive (for the state) Medicaid managed care. At the hearing, Tschetter was unable to answer exactly how many children had been screened out of the program, although the DOH presentation to the committee made...

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Part Two: Florida’s ‘Modern Day Slaves’ Need Open Doors

Perhaps the greatest challenge for children rescued from human trafficking is the shortage of available and appropriate treatment options and wrap-around services. The problem isn’t just limited to Florida.  The same story is being aired in media coverage throughout the country. Essentially, although laws were passed to move rescued children to child welfare from juvenile justice – in recognition that they are victims and not criminals – the dollars formerly used to confine or treat them have remained largely in the criminal justice system.  This has resulted in too few services for the most complicated cases now hitting the child...

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Back to the Future for Committee Week 1

Following two special sessions that stretched the 2015 legislative session well into summer, legislators are back to the job of lawmaking. No time travel in a suped-up DeLorean was required.  Legislators had used their authority provided by the Florida Constitution, and acquiescence of the Governor, to schedule the 2016 session for January instead of March.  Committee weeks in advance have already begun.  It gives Tallahassee the fatigued look and feel of a year-round legislature. But this go-around isn’t shaping up to be any easier than the last one.  The testiness of the recent health care fight still casts a shadow...

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Florida’s ‘Modern Day Slaves’ Need Open Doors

Imagine being confined behind bars and razor wire. You have been there for upwards of 30 days.  But you are a victim, not the perpetrator, of a horrible crime. This would be a nightmare, right? Now imagine this scenario as seen through the eyes of child victims of human trafficking. Being confined in a juvenile detention center or deep-end commitment program after their rescue is not a bad dream, but a horrifying reality. Florida’s Commercially Sexually Exploited Children are Suffering Jane* is just one child victim of sex trafficking. When her plight was recently brought to the attention of The...

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Innovations for Justice-Involved Girls Featured on PBS News Hour

  In America’s juvenile justice system, experts say girls, who make up a larger portion of incarcerated youth than in the past, act out for different reasons than boys. Girls in the system experience differing types of trauma and at differing rates than boys. For instance, 31% of girls in the juvenile justice system experience sexual abuse while incarcerated- a staggering four times the rate for boys. This phenomenon of trauma often leads to bad behavior- a vicious cycle that is only reinforced by the juvenile justice system. Soozee Stuart, who has cycled in and out of juvenile detention, was...

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Part Two: New York Times Best-Selling Author Refuses to Be Silenced by Gag Order

Ashley Rhodes-Courter’s life came full circle five years ago when she and her husband Erick became foster parents in Florida’s Tampa Bay area.  Ashley, a New York Times best-selling author of two books – Three Little Words and Three More Words respectively – had spent nearly 10 years in foster care before her adoption at age 12.  Part One of this series described why Ashley and Erick surrendered their foster parent license, rather than sign a “gag order” that would have prevented them from speaking publicly about the gruesome murder of a former foster child. Foster Parents Still Disrespected Perhaps...

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Gag Order Won’t Silence New York Times Best-Selling Author

The final straw for Ashley Rhodes-Courter was the “gag order” mandating that she not speak publicly about the gruesome murder of her former foster child, Jenica Randazzo. For much of her 29 years of life, Ashley courageously spoke up when witnessing wrongs, a trait fine-tuned during the tumultuous nine years she spent in foster care herself. Born to a single teen mom, Ashley went into Florida’s foster care system at age three and was shuffled through 44 caseworkers and 14 foster homes   ̶  some horribly abusive   ̶  before being adopted out of a group home at the age...

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Study Shows More Civil Citations Would Increase Public Safety Investment Battling Serious Crime

At a crowded press conference in Tallahassee yesterday, results from the state’s first comprehensive study of civil citations were released.  Civil citations are an alternative to arrest for common youth misbehavior.  The study – Stepping Up: Florida’s Top Civil Citation Efforts – shows that increasing the use of civil citations statewide would have enormous benefits for public safety, taxpayers, and the futures of youth. The study was conducted by one of Florida’s top civil citation experts and supported by state and national juvenile justice reform organizations. Civil Citations Are Efficient and Effective According to the study, increasing the issuance of juvenile civil citations...

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