Orange County Government, Florida
09 June 2016
Orange County Pilot Program Helps Parents and Troubled Children Improve Family Relationships
Orange County Youth & Family Services Division conducts a SNAP training
to help local at-risk boys to improve life outcomes and family relationships.

Orange County was recently chosen by the Department of Juvenile Justice as a pilot site for SNAP (STOP NOW AND PLAN), an award-winning, evidence-based program that originated in Canada in the 1980s. The program is designed for boys ages 6 to 11 who are engaging in aggressive, anti-social behavior and have come into contact with authority figures at school or in the community.

Orange County has fully embraced the program which is paying dividends to local families in crisis.

“This is an important program for Orange County because there just aren’t many resources out there when it comes to dealing effectively with troubling juvenile behavior,” said Amber Minton, senior children’s services counselor at Orange County Youth & Family Services Division. “The key is to get a handle on emotions early and be able to manage impulses and correct behavior, and this program gives both the boys and their parents the tools they need to do this.”

Orange County Youth and Family Services’ highly trained and experienced staff works with each family to assess challenges and problems and to develop appropriate action plans. There are two components - one for boys and another for parents - designed to prevent future anti-social behavior and reduce the chances of conflict with family, peers and authority figures.

In the boys’ component, boys attend specific weekly group sessions for 13 weeks. During this time, they learn how to use coping skills in different situations through engaging activities that include discussions, role-playing and interactive games. Topics addressed include dealing with angry thoughts and feelings, self-control, problem solving and bullying. In the parenting component, parents meet concurrently with the boys groups and learn effective child management and strategies.

“We were excited when asked to pilot this program and thankful to Mayor Jacobs for bringing this to us and supporting it fully,” said Youth & Family Services Division Manager Tracy Salem. “The program serves as a non-judgmental support system whose goal is to keep these boys in school and out of trouble. Our goal is to deliver it to its full potential and make it a permanent service that all residents can benefit from.”

Research has shown that the program leads to improved life outcomes for boys with fewer arguments at home, less school violence and bullying, more friends and fewer interactions with school principals. It improves parent-child relationships and emotional states by reducing stress and anxiety, reducing rates of depression, increasing overall happiness and improving self-confidence. It also changes development of a child’s brain by increasing activity in areas responsible for cognitive control and self-regulation.

“The counselors have been incredible, and I would recommend this to other parents in a heartbeat,” said Jenny Jimenez Estrella. “As a mom, it has given me the support I need and helped my family immensely. It has been an amazing experience, being able to get better at solving problems and helping each other as a family unit.”

Program participant Yvena Jean-Fils has been most impressed with how the program focuses on each individual in order to impart the knowledge needed to change negative patterns and behaviors.

“It has made a big change in my son’s life. He is following rules at home and doing his homework all the time. I’m so grateful to Orange County for providing this,”Jean-Fils said.

When warranted, program services also include individual child counseling/mentoring and community connections; school advocacy/teacher support; SNAP Parenting: Family Counseling; crisis intervention, and long-term connections/continued care.

“Everyone involved has been incredibly motivated, and we’re all invested to make this as impactful as possible,” Minton said. “We’re truly helping families and giving these boys the option of a brighter future. It’s also encouraging that we’re improving the community as a whole because when we become better citizens, it makes for a better and safer environment all around.”

SNAP® services are completely free to youth and their families. Orange County Youth & Family Services receives funding ($159,000/year) for the SNAP® program from the Florida Network of Youth and Family Services/Department of Juvenile Justice. In addition to providing free services, families are fed healthy meals and snacks at each session. Sibling care and in-county transportation can also be provided, if needed.

At-risk boys are generally referred by Orange County Public Schools and the Orange County court system. However, referrals can be made at any time by anyone. To make a referral, contact Paula Santana at Paula.Santana@ocfl.net or call 407-254-9376.

For more information on the SNAP® program, call the Orange County Family Counseling Program, Youth and Family Services Division, at 407-254-9376.