When it comes to the juvenile justice system, prevention is the name of the game.

When it comes to the juvenile justice system, prevention is the name of the game.

The newest face at Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School is Kelly Faircloth, Juvenile Probation Officer for Gulf County.

The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice System aims to increase public safety by reducing juvenile delinquency through effective prevention, intervention and treatment services that strengthen families and turn around the lives of troubled youth.

It’s not uncommon for youth to act out in school, but rather than have a student face arrest, suspension or expulsion, Faircloth’s goal was to help kids on the front end by being able to address situations immediately, before they have the potential to get worse.

Faircloth said that a student acting out is typically an indicator of bigger problems at home. He said that often, students just need a friend and he’s happy to be there for them. While occasionally there are bigger issues that may require law enforcement to get involved, the cause of the bad behavior can be something as simple as a bad breakup.

“These kids are teenagers and they have different problems than adults,” said Faircloth.

By being on campus, Faircloth can sit one-on-one with students and assess their needs and identify the source of the bad behavior.

“Because I’m at the school, I can assess them quickly and help them make a better judgment call,” said Faircloth. “We can see what’s best for them.”

When “bad kids” face expulsion, it affects the educational process. Faircloth would rather have students do community service, and work alongside them, to truly understand what’s causing the student to make poor choices.

Though Faircloth has provided services for Gulf County since September 2012, he was stationed in Panama City and made the trek to Port St. Joe several times a week in order to effectively interact with the kids.

He knew that he wanted to be closer and kept looking for opportunities to do so. Eventually he decided to approach Superintendent of Schools, Jim Norton with his idea to be located where the juveniles were rather than miles from those who needed his help.

“I wanted (Norton) to understand that we could work together on this for our kids,” said Faircloth. “He saw my vision and understood what I was looking for. I really wanted to be there with the children I worked with.”

After receiving Norton’s blessing, high school Principal Jeremy Knapp accommodated the Faircloth with office space right next to the cafeteria, the biggest common area in the school.

Prior, the space was called the “trophy room,” an area that hadn’t been used in the last decade. The move also put Faircloth right next to School Resource Officer Stacy Strickland, allowing them to work together for the safety and well-being of the student body. When the new school year began in August, Faircloth had an office and the students were pleased to see him.

“We thought it would be a great idea, and it was perfect timing,” said Norton. “Kelly is a great resource to have right there and he’s able to see the kids during the school day, which is great since one-third of a student’s day is spent in school.

“By being at the school, Kelly has unfettered access to answers to his immediate questions and we’re very happy to have this partnership.”

To further build prevention awareness, the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice held a road tour last week that visited various cities throughout the state and hosted an open dialogue for the public to inform the DJJ staff what resources and services were needed in their communities.

The stop in Gulf County was held at Gulf Coast State College Gulf/Franklin Campus was open to the public and DJJ secretary Wansley Walters told attendees that a strong community can keep kids from ending up in the court system.

She said that more than 100,000 kids go into the court system each year; though only a small number of those are serious or violent offenders. With the DJJ’s new focus on prevention, there has been a 25 percent reduction in juvenile delinquency in the past two years for the state of Florida.

“A vast majority of kids are troubled in some fashion,” said Walters. “Intervention at an early age is important.”

In Gulf County, the DJJ works with the teen court and holds prevention-oriented presentations in schools to discuss domestic violence with students and reinforce the importance of respect and the negative effects of bullying.

Walters also discussed the addition of after school programs which include Project Connect which works with youth who are exiting the court system to provide vocational and mentorship services, help provide transportation, assist in locating employment and even help kids set goals.

Wansley Walters is a nationally recognized leader in juvenile justice. She pioneered juvenile justice services in Miami-Dade County from 1995 until Governor Rick Scott appointed her to lead the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) in January 2011. During her tenure, Miami-Dade not only had the lowest youth incarceration rate in the state, but also boasted one of Florida’s lowest juvenile crime rates.

“Our goal is to ensure that we have the right combination of services and sanctions, in the right place, at the right time as we care for each youth and keep the public safe,” said Walters.