Teen Court of Sarasota Expands Services, Waives Fees for Students and Families Amidst Economic Uncertainty

Coconut Telegraph

SRQ DAILY FRIDAY WEEKEND EDITION FRIDAY MAY 15, 2020

While youth-serving organizations adjust to changing academic schedules and new challenges, Teen Court of Sarasota is using this time as an opportunity to expand its range of services for students in its pretrial intervention program.

Designed to divert youth out of the criminal justice system, Teen Court provides students who have made bad choices with educational and social development activities. With the effects of the declining economy taking its toll on many in the community, the organization has waived its fees for participants and secured funds to eliminate barriers families are facing during these difficult times.

“Families are stressed enough after learning their child has been on the wrong side of the law,” says Heather Todd, Executive Director of Teen Court. “We want to do everything we can to support the student and their family to ensure that they can focus on rehabilitation. Money should not be the difference between a child turning their life around or them entering the criminal justice system.”

Frequently the needs of youth and their families go well-beyond counseling, classes, and conversation. Helped by a $100,000 grant from Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation, the program will now deliver additional mental health therapy, provide transportation options, and offer food assistance and other vital needs for students and their families. Funds will also subsidize drug testing costs and other expenses for participants.

The program helped more than 563 students not be arrested or expelled from school last year. Only 7% of youth served re-offend, compared to 42% at juvenile court.

“Teen Court is instrumental in diverting youth away from the justice system in a positive manner,” says Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight. “It’s a win-win for the community as a whole.”

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