Florida Network board member and former senator Matthew Meadows speaking at a Broward County sheriff’s event for prevention against domestic violence in 1997.

The Florida Network of Youth and Family Services was founded on a set of core values that guide our mission and programs as a youth advocacy organization. One of these values focuses on family. We are committed to keeping youth and families together and strengthening family systems. One of the most damaging factors that threaten healthy family units is domestic violence. This month, my team and I join thousands of people across the nation to participate in Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

As Florida Network President and CEO, I work with my team to establish, train, assist and oversee domestic violence respite programs throughout our agencies and shelters across the state. Since contract execution in 2013, the Florida Network has served 2,790 youth and of that, 93.9 percent have either returned to their families, received outside treatment or found a safe alternative following a respite stay.

The Florida Network team participated in #PurpleThursday to increase awareness and take a stand against domestic violence.

Domestic violence is an epidemic that spreads throughout our communities and harms families across the globe. Violence does not discriminate, meaning anyone can be a domestic violence offender – including youth. A 2004 FBI National Incident-Based Reporting System report found that one out of 12 offenders who came to the attention of law enforcement for domestic assault offenses were younger than 18. Many of these youth offenders go through our domestic violence respite programs. We are proud of these programs because they serve as an alternative to secure detention for youth who are arrested and charged with a domestic violence offense on a household member.

And, on the other side of the coin, when children are a witness to domestic violence, they are not only taught that physical or mental abuse is an acceptable way to treat others, but that there is no need for emotional self control. An astounding one in 15 children is exposed to intimate partner violence each year and 90 percent of these children are eyewitnesses to this violence (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence).

The children who witness these acts of unhindered violence often fall into violent relationships. They lack basic coping strategies, self-control and anger management skills. Through collaborative efforts with the Department of Juvenile Justice and dedicated staff throughout our member agencies, the Florida Network offers the Stop Now And Plan (SNAP) Behavioral Program, which teaches youth how to cope under pressure.

During this month of national awareness and advocacy against domestic violence, the Florida Network is upholding, now more than ever, our core value of strengthened families through innovative, effective and supportive practices and resources. Not only do our member agencies and shelters provide a safe place for victims of domestic violence, but they also offer the life skills and tools necessary to prevent violent relationships. As the devoted stewards of Florida’s youth and families, we lend our hand of support to victims of domestic violence and contribute our efforts and services toward making not only our state, but the entire nation, a safer and more peaceful place for children and families.

Stacy Gromatski is the president and CEO of the Florida Network of Youth and Family Services. She can be reached at stacy@floridanetwork.org. For more information on the Florida Network, visit www.floridanetwork.org.