Teen Court of Sarasota sees rise in demand, expands services with community support

Barancik Foundation awards $125,000 to the program

Image from the Teen Court of Sarasota website

“The COVID-19 pandemic has taken an extraordinary toll on youth and families, amplifying stressful situations and exacerbating a variety of factors that can increase a youth’s likelihood of delinquent behavior. Locally, Teen Court of Sarasota is witnessing this trend,” as the organization has seen its number of referrals from law enforcement rise by more than 30%, Teen Court reported in a recent news release.

“But we are not powerless in the face of these challenging circumstances,” the release continued. “One promising factor is that the number of youth taken into custody and held in the juvenile justice system is trending down thanks to intervention and diversion programs like Teen Court.”

The release added, “Last year alone, the organization was able to provide peer-on-peer court sessions, group classes focused on the negative impact of drugs and alcohol, mentorship, and life skills training to more than 700 youth in the community. Completion of a Teen Court referral means the young person will not be arrested or expelled from school. Not only does the diversion of incarceration provide a second chance for the student, it also takes the strain and financial burden off of law enforcement and the justice system,” the release pointed out.

“We believe in teens helping teens, encouraging young people to help each other through a time of difficulty in their lives,” says Executive Director Heather Todd in the release. “The quality provided through our case managers, intervention and prevention services continues to empower our students through experimental learning and peer on peer mentorship,” she added in the release.

To meet the growing need, the Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation recently awarded the organization a $125,000 grant to expand its services and hire additional case managers to support children, the release noted.

“The support is much needed,” the release explained, as more than 70% of those who receive Teen Court’s services get them free of charge because of financial need.

With five months being the average time participants spend with Teen Court, “and the inclusion of families into the healing process, the funding has eliminated the cost for services,” the release said. That, in turn, eliminates the stress family members feel when they are going through the program, the release noted.

“The generous capacity building grant will allow us to accommodate the growing number of students referred to Teen Court for meaningful consequences, positive redirection, and services,” says Todd in the release. “We hope more in the community will join us in this support.”

Teen Court of Sarasota Inc. is an alternative to Juvenile Court, the release explained. “Youth who come through Teen Court participate in a court program run by their peers, under the supervision of a volunteer adult judge. Student volunteers who participate in the program “receive a law-related education along with community service hours for their time.” In a complement to the Teen Court program, the organization offers counseling services, plus drug prevention, anti-bullying, and anger management classes “to those youth who demonstrate extra need,” the release added.

For more information about Teen Court of Sarasota, visit http://www.sarasotateencourt.org.