“New Girls Court to help young moms, abused youth stay out of the system” | Florida Times Union | May 8th, 2014 – See full story at: Jacksonville.com
A new juvenile court for girls is looking to help high-risk youth stay out of the judicial system.
The new Girls Court was announced Thursday by Circuit Judge David Gooding during a meeting with the Jacksonville Women Lawyers Association.
Gooding, a juvenile judge who hears cases dealing with foster children, said the new court will not cost any additional money and will be an extension of his docket for foster youths.
The new court will target girls who are pregnant, parenting or who have been sexually exploited or abused.
“These children are really at the highest risk,” Gooding said just prior to addressing the lawyer’s group. “They could be the future mothers in dependency cases if we don’t help them now.”
Over the past two years, the Jacksonville circuit area (which includes Clay and Nassau counties) has incarcerated the highest number of girls in the state with 112.
Twenty-eight girls who are parents and another 10 who are pregnant under the age of 18 in Duval County are involved with the department of juvenile justice, according to recent figures provided by Gooding.
According to state and national figures, girls typically experience more abuse than boys, girls are more likely than boys to experience sexual abuse, more girls have mental health needs and more girls attempt suicide.
“All of the numbers point to the need,” said Lee Kaywork, chief executive officer for Family Support Services of North Florida. “If we put focused effort on it, hopefully we can turn the outcomes into more positives.”
Family Support Services and the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center worked with Gooding to create the new court. Gooding said the court is expected to begin this summer and will have an initial capacity of about 30 active cases.
The Girls Court will be designed to reduce recidivism, detention and commitments among girls. It will also aim to identify and address the risk factors of criminal behavior among girls. And lastly the program will collect data to help inform policy decisions.
Case loads for the probation officers in the new court will be lower than those for the traditional juvenile courts. Gooding said that is possible because the program will use the probation officers who are in his foster care court, who already have lower case loads.
“We want to have more of a connection with our girls in this court room process,” he said. “There is a higher chance of success in probation by using this model, that’s what other states have shown.”
A program in Hawaii has shown promise in decreasing detention numbers for the girls that participate, according to a New York Times article published earlier this year.
The Jacksonville program, which is voluntary, will connect the youth with a mentors and programs specifically designed for young girls.
Kate Mesic, a former prosecutor and president of the Jacksonville Women Lawyers Association, said she hoped some of her group’s members would be inspired to help the new court.
“My hope was to spark their interest in this idea,” she said. “Hopefully, Judge Gooding will find some mentors here.”
Topher Sanders: (904) 359-4169