Every October, the Florida Network of Youth and Family Services is reminded of how vital it truly is to uphold our mission to provide at-risk and troubled youth and their families the best resources, services and help. In 2006, the National Bullying Prevention Month was founded by PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center to unite communities across the nation to educate and raise awareness of bullying prevention. Now, 10 years later, the campaign has grown into a nationwide effort with thousands of children, parents, teachers, major corporations and nonprofits participating – including the Florida Network.
According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, one out of every four students reports being bullied during the school year. A study by Davis and Nixon revealed the reasons for being bullied reported most often by students were looks (55 percent), body shape (37 percent) and race (16 percent). Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that students who engage in bullying behavior are at increased risk for academic problems, substance use and violent behavior later in adolescence and adulthood.
Many of the youth who seek safe haven at one of Florida Network’s 29 member agencies and 28 shelters have experienced the profound and negative effects of bullying. They feel isolated, unwanted and misunderstood. Their self-esteem and confidence has taken a toll thanks to the stinging words and the mentally – and physically – damaging actions of their peers. While our member agencies and shelters are equipped with devoted and experienced staff and a wide variety of resources to help these bullied youth overcome the obstacles they face, it is not enough. At the Florida Network, we seek to not only treat the harmful effects of bullying, but prevent it.
This year, the Florida Network implemented the Stop Now And Plan (SNAP) Behavioral Program in four cities statewide, including CDS Family & Behavioral Health Services in Gainesville, Youth Crisis Center in Jacksonville, Capital City Youth Services in Tallahassee and Orange County Youth and Family Services in Orlando.
With the assistance of the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, each SNAP program provides high-risk boys and their parents with model skills and strategies to help them stay in school and out of trouble by making better choices under pressure throughout the 13-week program. Youth participate in engaging activities such as group discussions, role-playing, interactive games and self-reflection to address topics including dealing with anger, learning how to cope and practice self-control, engaging in problem solving and learning not to bully and how to prevent bullying. SNAP is not meant to solely empower young boys but their parents as well. By focusing on prevention, parents or caregivers are able to intervene and encourage their children to stay on the right path through the lessons taken away with them at the end of the program. The Florida Network is also excited that our agencies are now offering the SNAP curriculum for girls.
According to the Child Development Institute, research has shown that the program leads to fewer arguments and conflict at home, immediate decreases in delinquency and aggression, less bullying, less antisocial behavior and more positive interactions between teachers, peers and family members. The program has also been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, aggression and delinquency, improve social competency and pro-social skills. These effects of the SNAP program can help improve relationships between child and parent and encourage youth to say “no” to an unhealthy or troubled future. The program also offers the child the opportunity to improve their decision-making skills.
The SNAP program not only provides an opportunity for children to improve their lives, but it also provides a sense of hope for those who have experienced the destructive effects of bullying. SNAP is an opportunity for everyone – not just youth and parents – to learn the importance of healthy behavior, positive action and bullying prevention. As the Florida Network participates in National Bullying Prevention Month this October, we are thrilled to be able to share this program with parents and children at the current sites, and we will endeavor expand the services so that more families statewide can benefit from the tremendous impact of SNAP.
Stacy Gromatski is the president and CEO of the Florida Network of Youth and Family Services. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on the Florida Network, visit http://www.floridanetwork.org.