Information for Parents of At-Risk Youth

at risk youthWhat is an “at risk” youth?
A youth who has never been arrested but may be engaging in risky behaviors is an “at risk” youth.  These risky behaviors may include skipping school, experimenting with drugs, running away from home, and/or uncontrollable behavior.  Youth who exhibit these behaviors are at high risk for being arrested and becoming involved in the juvenile delinquency system.

Frequently Asked Questions

My daughter is 13 years old and I can’t control her.  What can I do?

When you feel like you are in over your head with your child, inviting professionals to help is often the best direction parents can take.  Seek professional counseling for you and your child.  Take parenting classes.  Think of it as getting “coaching” as a parent.  Or talk with your church’s leaders.  A place to start in finding the services you need is at the Juvenile Assessment Center of Lee County.  Professional staff is available to assess your situation and needs.  They can guide you in finding the services in the community that can assist you.

My child has run away.  What should I do?  How should I report that my child has run away?

First check with your child’s friends, neighbors, relatives or anyone else you think that might know where he or she is.  Report that your child has run away or is missing to your local law enforcement agency as soon as you know they are missing.  Have the officer come to your home to take the report.  Provide recent photos of your child to the officer.  Once you have made the report to local law enforcement, you may also want to call the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s Missing Children Information Clearinghouse (1-888-FL-MISSING) to report your child missing. This is a program that provides a centralized file to collect, store, and disseminate information on missing children in the state of Florida.  Other help lines are available at the National Runaway Switchboard (1-800-621-4000) and the Florida Network of Youth and Family Services Runaway Hotline (1-800-786-2929).  When your child is found or returns home, notify law enforcement and all others that have assisted you in your search.  Lutheran Services of Florida offers crisis counseling and family counseling for Lee County families of runaway children (278-5400).  They also provide the Oasis Youth Shelter, which in some cases, may be utilized as a temporary, safe residence for a youth while a family works toward resolving their problems (278-1030).

I think my son is using drugs.  What are the warning signs of teen substance abuse?  What can I do if I suspect my child is using drugs?

Warning signs of teen substance abuse can include:

Physical signs:
  Fatigue, repeated health complaints, red and glazed eyes, lingering cough.

Emotional signs:
  Personality change, sudden mood changes, irritability, irresponsible behavior, low self esteem, depression, and a general lack of interest.

Family signs:
  Starting arguments, breaking rules, withdrawing from the family.

School signs:
Decreased interest, negative attitude, drop in grades, many absences, truancy, and discipline problems.

Social signs:
New friends who are less interested in standard home and school activities, poor judgment, problems with the law.

The above warning signs can also be signs of other problems. Parents are advised to consult a mental health/substance abuse professional for an evaluation if there is suspicion that your child has a substance abuse problem. SalusCare provides assessments and treatment for substance abuse issues. To find out about their services for youth, call 772-1211.  Also, free drug test kits are available to parents at the JAC.  Parents may wish to use a drug test to test their child if they suspect their child has been using drugs.  Read more about using a drug test kit as a prevention tool……..

My son is 16 years old and says he wants to become emancipated.  Is that possible?

A youth is emancipated or “free” from their parent’s control when they reach the age of 18, enter the military, marry, or have the circuit court declare that they are emancipated.  Once emancipated, they are treated as an adult and take on the responsibilities of an adult.  In order to have the circuit court declare a youth emancipated, they must be at least 16 years old, willing to live apart from their parents or guardians with their consent, and have a legal source of income to provide for their own support in a stable living environment.  The court must determine that emancipation is in the youth’s best interest.  Emancipation in the State of Florida is referred to as the “Removal of Disability of Non-Age.”  For more information on emancipation in Florida and the legal requirements involved, go to and read Florida Statute 743.015.  Or, click on Emancipation to read the JAC’s brochure.

Check out our Publications page for other information for parents.