Department of Juvenile Justice pilots Orange County program to help at-risk youth

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — The Department of Juvenile Justice is piloting a new program in Orange County aimed at keeping young boys out of the juvenile justice system.

State statistics show that Orange County has some of the highest numbers of youth intake into the justice system in the state.

From stealing, to bringing a gun to school, the boys in the S.N.A.P. program, which stands for "Stop Now and Plan," have already shown ‘at-risk’ behavior, at as young as 7.

“Whether it be stealing, or lying, or acting out, or fighting.

Some have emotional regulation problems where they don't know how to manage their emotions; anger, frustration, overexcitement even,” Senior Children’s Services Counselor Amber Minton told Eyewitness News.

The pilot is fully funded by the DJJ with $159,000 to launch its first 13-week program.

One mother told us she’s already seen breakthroughs with her 7-year-old son after just a few weeks.

“Just to help him before somebody else tries to help him in the future, in the wrong way,” Meleekia Edwards said.

Once a week for 90 minutes, a group of seven boys role play emotional situations to practice proper reaction, while their parents learn discipline techniques.

Siblings are also welcome in another room, easing the worry of childcare for parents.

The program is free for participants and is based heavily on referrals from schools.

“I've noticed a lot of change in him and his siblings, they're looking forward to coming, and as a parent I've learned a lot, too,” Edwards said.

The stakes are high in Orange County.

In the last fiscal year, 2014-2015, Orange County saw 3,818 kids between age 10 and 17 brought into the juvenile justice system, landing it in the top five per capita in the state.

Just last month, 15-year-old Jancarlos Ortiz was arrested after allegedly trying to run over an Orange County deputy.

It’s the exact type of violent crime program leaders hope to prevent.

“You're going to be preventing these families from entering any of the systems,” division manager Dr. Tracy Salem told Eyewitness News.

County leaders hope to have three groups complete the program this year, helping 21 kids and their families.