Award-Winning Counseling Program Positively Impacts Children and Families in Orange County
In 2015, when Orange County was chosen by the Department of Juvenile Justice as a pilot site for the SNAP (STOP NOW AND PLAN) program, the goal was to officially introduce the program and develop it into a permanent service from which all residents could benefit.
SNAP is an award-winning, evidence-based counseling program that originated in Canada in the 1980s. It was originally designed for boys 6 to 11 years old who were engaging in aggressive, anti-social behavior or had come in contact with authority figures at school or in the community.
The program is coordinated and administered by the Orange County Family Counseling Program in the Youth and Family Services Division. SNAP has helped hundreds of at-risk youth and their families in addition to introducing an “in-school” curriculum for these students. Now in its third year, the program began with counseling but recently expanded to include services specially geared towards at-risk girls.
Orange County Youth and Family Services Manager Dr. Tracey Salem said expanding the service to girls required an adjustment to the curriculum.
“Research shows girls want and need more social interaction as opposed to physical outlets,” Salem explained. “It’s going really well, although referrals for girls are much less than for boys. This is partly because concerning behavior in girls is less noticed because they don’t have as many physical outbursts, but the goal is to offer the program to anyone who can benefit from it, regardless of gender.”
On June 1, 2018, SNAP Orlando/Orange County won Program of the Year, an award given by the Florida Network of Youth and Family Services. It is a prestigious recognition given that every youth and family services program across the entire state of Florida was considered.
One of four original pilot sites in the state – along with Tallahassee, Gainesville and Jacksonville – Orlando/Orange County has taken the program and successfully expanded its reach. Last school year, SNAP in Schools was introduced at Phyllis Wheatley Elementary School in Apopka. In six 4th-grade classrooms, for 45 minutes once a week, a SNAP counselor works with students to identify their strengths and develop self-confidence, self-worth and self-control.
“We realized we could reach more children by taking the program to the schools,” Salem added.
Salem and her staff, consisting of a full-time coordinator, two full-time case managers, one part-time counselor and the SNAP in Schools counselor, met with teachers over the summer and taught them about SNAP so they all understood the philosophy. The group bought in to the program immediately. Salem is excited about the prospect of aiding students at Wheatley Elementary and partnering with other Orange County schools next year.
“It’s amazing, and I’m especially glad for my staff because they’ve worked so hard over these years,” Salem said. “More importantly, we’re happy because we’ve seen first-hand the difference this program makes in the lives of families, who are benefiting and growing by accumulating important knowledge and skills.”
SNAP services are completely free to youth and their families. At-risk youth are generally referred by Orange County Public Schools and the Orange County court system. However, referrals can be made at any time by anyone.
For more information on the SNAP program, call the Orange County Family Counseling Program, Youth and Family Services Division, at 407-254-9376.