Guest column: New hope for smart justice regarding girls

The Florida-Times Union recently reported the sobering news that Duval and surrounding counties lead Florida in the number of girls who are incarcerated.

The Times-Union also reported that Voices for Florida and The Children’s Campaign recently partnered with the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center in Jacksonville sponsoring a community forum marking National Girls’ Justice Day.

Forum attendees heard about the treatment of girls from the center’s just-released report “A Wake-Up Call: Trends in Girls’ Involvement in the Justice System.” The report revealed shortcomings of the juvenile system, especially concerning the needs of girls.

Florida is lacking enough probation, treatment and diversion programs — the programs that research-based evidence demonstrates are needed to address the growing issues of girls being sexually assaulted, suffering from depression or other mental health problems.

This results in outcomes, such as girls running away from abusive homes and into a life of sex trafficking or other victimization.

TOO LITTLE PROGRESS

As local citizens attending the forum sat in stunned silence, the news went from bad to worse. Speaker Jeffrey Goldhagen, a nationally recognized Jacksonville pediatrician, pointed out that until communities come together and change how we approach girls’ needs, “10 years from now, 20 years from now, 30 years from now, we are going to be talking about the need with no improvement in the tragic loss of potential …”

Attendees got the message: Our daughters and granddaughters can’t wait another decade or more.

Why haven’t we made progress? A key factor is lack of a coordinated “system of care” for girls.

Without it, we can’t provide the supports that enable our daughters and granddaughters to experience the quality of life we want for them.

A coordinated system is like a team of rowers, their oars rowing in unison.The boat seems to skim across the water effortlessly.

Just like the rowers, in a coordinated system of care for girls everyone works together in unison — from individual citizens to families to government at all levels — to move forward in one direction, focused and synchronized in addressing the needs of girls.

There is, however, new hope. An initiative recently launched in Jacksonville called Voices for Florida Girls was developed by leaders in the First Coast Community. They believe our community is ready to “get engaged” and bring greater public attention and action to the needs of girls.

FIVE KEYS

Voices for Florida Girls is an affiliate program of Voices for Florida. Voices for Florida works on five key areas to turn the tide for girls.

These include: developing fact-based public policies, conducting fiscal and budget analysis for girls’ programs, recommending improvements to laws, conducting educational training on policy issues and reporting to citizens how public policies really impact our girls, families and communities. This integrated approach provides a foundation for building a coordinated system of care model for girls.

Ultimately, it is the involvement of citizens that will determine the success of Voices for Florida Girls. Citizens have the power to expand public conversation and encourage debates that lead to gender-specific programs that help girls — especially girls at-risk — reach their highest potential. Voices for Florida Girls invites citizens to know, share and engage to build a better future for girls. Your daughters and granddaughters of the First Coast are depending on you!

Learn more about Voices for Florida Girls at www.voicesforflorida.org.

 

Linda Alexionok of Tallahassee is president of Voices for Florida, a nonpartisan, statewide 501c3 organization

 

Email: [email protected].

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