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Tampa Conference Spotlights Kids' Behavioral Health

Children's advocates are calling for more investment in diversion programs, such as civil citations, that keep young people out of the juvenile justice system. (marcino/Pixabay)
Children's advocates are calling for more investment in diversion programs, such as civil citations, that keep young people out of the juvenile justice system. (marcino/Pixabay)
March 1, 2019

TAMPA, Fla. – A major conference in Tampa is bringing experts together from across the country to address why kids involved in the juvenile justice system have high levels of behavioral health disorders.

The 32nd Annual Research and Policy Conference on Child, Adolescent and Young Adult Behavioral Health features a number of keynote speakers, including Frankie Guzman. He's director of the California Youth Justice Initiative at the National Center for Youth Law – but was sentenced as a teen to serve 15 years in the California Youth Authority for armed robbery.

Guzman turned his life around and became a lawyer, and now shares advice on supporting positive youth development.

"But if we treat them as children, with love and care, and treat them as we would our own children, then in my experience, overwhelmingly they respond positively,” says Guzman. “So you know, I am an example of a success story that benefited largely from a community-based treatment, from a public-health approach."

According to data from Florida KIDS COUNT, juvenile arrests are on the decline – however, involuntary mental-health exams and temporary detention of children, through what's known as the Baker Act, increased almost 50 percent between 2010 and 2016.

The Tampa conference runs Sunday through Wednesday at the Hilton Downtown. Since 1988, the conference has focused on promoting research to improve juvenile justice and related services for children and youth.

Guzman says his life's journey was not easy and too often, he's seen children perceived to be "high-risk" are made so, based on how the system treats them.

"I was very much harmed by the system and to be honest, came out worse than I went in – after hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars invested in my incarceration and so-called rehabilitation,” says Guzman. “It really put me at a disadvantage upon release. And so, I also intend to highlight a lot of the positive experience that I encountered."

The Tampa Conference is sponsored by Child and Family Studies at the University of South Florida, along with other organizations. It will include a conversation with school shooting survivors, plus discussions on engaging young people and trends in behavioral health research.

Trimmel Gomes, Public News Service - FL