Hope Florida expansion program breaking down barriers for at-risk youth


Shane Ersland


Florida health officials discussed a new program that is helping at-risk youth in the state last week. 

Jess Tharpe, assistant secretary for the new Office of Prevention and Community Services at the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF), spoke at a Senate Committee on Children, Families, and Elder Affairs meeting on Wednesday. She said the office was created last summer after it became clear that certain DCF programs needed additional attention, resources, and leadership.

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“So that is the intent (of the) shift to the new office, and separating programs to make sure that some of these special populations, like survivors of domestic violence, human trafficking victims, vulnerable adults who are being exploited, and those who are experiencing homelessness have robust continuums of care to meet their needs,” Tharpe said.

The new office includes four programs that were previously housed under the Office of Child and Family Well-Being (Adult Protection, Homelessness Prevention, Domestic Violence Prevention, and Human Trafficking Prevention) as well as two programs that were previously housed at the Office of Economic Self Sufficiency (Continuing Care and Hope Florida’s new program).

Florida First Lady Casey DeSantis announced that she was launching Hope Florida—A Pathway to Potential in March as an expansion of the Hope Florida model to support at-risk youth and their families.

“We are continuing the first lady’s vision to revolutionize government by maximizing our state resources and resources available in the local community to promote long-term well-being and self-sufficiency.”

— Tharpe

The program utilizes hope navigators who support youth by connecting them and their families with resources that can provide support for various immediate and long-term issues. Hope navigators guide clients on individualized paths to self-sufficiency by focusing on community collaboration between private-sector, faith-based, nonprofit, and government entities to break down traditional community silos to uncover opportunities.

“The biggest barriers we are seeing are housing, basic needs, child care, and employment,” Tharpe said. “And we are experiencing some great success in helping individuals remove these barriers. Most of those [have had] 59 percent of those barriers removed, depending on which barrier we’re talking about. [Some have had] up to 77 percent. I want to see all of those get up into the 90s in helping those individuals remove every single barrier they have.”

Tharpe said 53 percent of Hope Florida customers who received public benefits have reduced or eliminated their reliance on that assistance. 

“This speaks volumes to the type of help and assistance we can provide when we empower individuals on a pathway. In support of the child protection system, Hope Florida offers an alternative pathway for families that may have some challenges, but it’s not enough to bubble up to formal child dependency case management services. And then we’re connecting those families with hope navigators to prevent that family from coming back in through the hotline.”

— Tharpe

Those interested in seeking Hope Florida services can call its hope line (850-300-HOPE). Tharpe said the line receives 40,130 calls per year.

Hope Florida employs 125 hope navigators across the state, and works with 6,073 faith-based and nonprofit partners to connect individuals with local resources so they can continue on a pathway of well-being and self-sufficiency, Tharpe said. 

Committee Chair Sen. Ileana Garcia (R-Miami) asked what type of data is collected from hope line calls. Tharpe said an advocate will answer a call and do a quick assessment to determine whether they can immediately help the caller or whether the caller needs long-term assistance.

“[If] they have one barrier, they might just need a referral. Or they may have a couple different challenges and barriers, so they’re going to refer them to the more formal hope navigation program. About 68 percent of those callers are going on to that formal hope navigation process. As far as data, we have the number of calls, (and) which ones are going in that tier one (barrier can be addressed immediately) or tier two (more formal, in-depth process). We track wait times and other data.”

— Tharpe

Continuing Care is also a relatively new program, designed to be a connection point for youth who have aged out or are about to age out of foster care. It is for young adults (ages 18-26) who have or are about to transition out of foster care. The program is staffed with young adults with lived experience.

“If they ever get disconnected from their case manager or independent living specialist, or just want to talk to someone who’s been in their shoes, they can pick up the phone and call that line, and speak to a peer advocate,” Tharpe said. 

Continuing Care served 987 young adults last year, Tharpe said.