Balancing Accountability and Grace in Broward County

balancing accountability- featuredFlorida youth who have committed a community offense are benefitting from services that promote positive change and redemption through the Faith and Community Network and the PROMISE Program. While some believe that all those who commit a crime or community infraction should pay for their offense, others understand that each of us have made regretted mistakes and are in need of grace or a second chance to learn from those mistakes. Matthew 6:14-15 states, “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins” (NLT). We will be judged by the standard we judge others. To challenge our view of justice a little more, we are invited to consider the limits of our willingness to forgive in Matthew 19:21-22, as Jesus reminds us that we are called to forgive another “seventy-seven times.”

Accountability is important, even essential, for a community, school or organization to function well. Balancing accountability with grace is the goal of two collaborative partnerships that are positively impacting Florida youth. Both initiatives are rooted in best practices developed by the Georgetown University’s Center for Juvenile Justice Reform.


The PROMISE Program

Broward County has brought community stakeholders together to decrease the entrenchment of youth in the juvenile justice system and promote youth development. The PROMISE program is an initiative in Broward County developed to assist students in grades K-12 who have committed a non-violent crime that normally would cause them to be arrested and placed in the juvenile justice system. It also is designed to deal with students who have committed infractions related to harassment and bullying. PROMISE stands for Preventing Recidivism through Opportunities, Mentoring, Interventions, Support and Education. It is a mandatory element of the Broward County School District’s Discipline Matrix.

One of the goals of the PROMISE program is to build on the individuals’ strengths while also identifying specific, clear expectations and outcomes to help youth develop better coping skills and pro-social skills. Research shows that pro-social skills are important for the well-being of social groups in numerous ways. These skills are rooted in empathy and are essentially voluntary behaviors that are intended to benefit others through such acts as helping someone who is struggling, sharing one’s pen, volunteering or cooperating on a group project or with a sports team.

Maria Schneider, head of the juvenile division in the Broward State Attorney’s Office, is one of the key individuals working to help youth change the trajectory of their lives. Schneider points out, “I often find that it’s not just the criminalization of behavior that has a negative impact on people; it’ s the way the rest of society reacts to someone who’s made a mistake that has the most lasting harmful effect. I firmly believe in personal responsibility and that certain behaviors require consequences. But, I also firmly believe that people can be rehabilitated and that once someone has paid their due, they should not be marginalized. We need to be accepting of those who have made mistakes as a community.”

This initiative involves short-term and long-term intervention including on-site interventions at the Pine Ridge Education Center followed by ongoing school progress-monitoring at their normal school. The model uses a System-of-Care approach that involves the justice system, social and civic agencies, and the education system and employs Response to Intervention practices, a multi-level approach to the early identification and support of students with learning and behavior needs. The PROMISE program focuses on the situation rather than solely on the individual being the source of the problem. It also incorporates elements that are designed to safeguard the rights of the victims to ensure that their voices are heard and their choices are valued. The intent is to promote reconciliation and avoid further victimization.

When asked why she is committed to the work she is doing to help youth, Schneider said, “I have the ability to make decisions and influence policy when it comes to juveniles in our county, and I try to use my education, experiences as a lawyer, parent and citizen, and as much other information as I can possibly make myself aware of, to make the best decisions possible.” She discussed the importance of digging deeper to find out why the child is engaging in delinquent behavior. Often, with a little digging, we can identify contributing causes to the problem behavior such as poverty, lack of nurturing, mental illness and learning disabilities.

Her persistence and commitment to positively impacting youth has rewards. Schneider said, “If we can address those problems in a positive and effective way, every once in a while I get to see a kid change over time from a disconnected and uninvolved troublemaker into a solid student looking forward to a bright future. You can’t beat that!”


The Faith Community Network

Another initiative designed to support youth in our state is The Faith Community Network (FCN). This Florida Department of Juvenile Justice initiative is a collaborative partnership between local churches, individuals, ministries and organizations from all faiths who are working collectively in each judicial circuit to help prevent and reduce juvenile delinquency across the State of Florida by providing direct services and advocating for youth. The FCN recognizes that each community has unique needs and resources and is designed to be flexible to leverage the community’s strengths while intentionally addressing the specific needs of the community.

The mission of the Faith and Community Network is “to provide a full range of programs and services to prevent and reduce juvenile delinquency through partnership with faith and community-based organizations. This effort is designed to use a balanced approach that increases public safety and ensures that the children and families of Florida live in safe, nurturing communities that provide for their needs, recognize their strengths, and support their success.”

If you are interested in getting involved in the Faith Community Network, contact the Faith Network Coordinator to learn how you or your faith-based community/organization can become partners in the Faith Community Network and Chaplaincy Services Program. Contact Craig Swain, Faith Network Coordinator, at [email protected] or 850-717-2442 / 850-922-6189.


Related verses: Matthew 6:12, 18:23-35, 5:43-47, Luke 6:37, Ephesians 4:32, Colossians 3:13


Terry Morrow, Ph.D. is the president of Morrow and Associates Partnership for Leadership and Transformation. She is an assistant dean and assistant professor at Nova Southeastern University. She can be reached at [email protected].

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