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Florida's Youth Programs For Youth With A Developmental Disability

Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) Residential Services provides a continuum of care for youth with disabilities committed to the care and custody of the Department, beginning with commitment management services through placement within residential commitment programs. The commitment management system is designed to place youth in the most appropriate program to meet the youth’s special needs and to promote public safety.

DJJ’s Health Service Manual defines a developmental disability (DD) as a disorder or syndrome that is attributable to retardation, cerebral palsy, autism, spina bifida or Prader Willi syndrome and constitutes a substantial handicap that can be expected to continue indefinitely.

Basic Principles

Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) Residential Services must adhere to the following basic principles:

  • All detention center and residential commitment programs need to provide effective healthcare and services to youth with Developmental Disabilities (DD) and therefore must:
    • provide training for staff on the special need populations;
    • conduct effective ongoing assessments of mental health and medical treatment; and
    • provide individual treatment plans that meet the mental and medical health care needs of each youth with a developmental disability.
  • Youth with developmental disabilities shall receive equivalent preventative, gender and age related health care services while residing in the residential program.
  • Individual treatment plans for developmentally disabled youth may focus on assisting the youth to cope with the correctional environment as well as educating staff to the special needs including:
    • Diet
    • Exercise
    • Special Medication Administration requirements
    • Laboratory and other diagnostic monitoring
    • Frequency of follow up visits
    • Youth education
  • Be aware that youth with developmental disabilities may encounter difficulty communicating with or understanding staff. The youth may easily become a victim in the correctional environment and may need special housing arrangements.

ID of DD Youth

A youth may have problems cognitively and may have difficulty understanding rules, following direction and adapting in the correctional setting.  Early identification of youth with DD is critical to providing appropriate care and access to necessary services.

Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) staff must be aware of information and behavior that suggest developmental disabilities such as:

  • Psychological or mental health evaluation that indicates an IQ of below 70;
  • School records showing Exceptional Student Education (ESE) classes and Individualized Education Program (IEP);
  • Youth having difficulty understanding and answering questions;
  • Youth having difficulty understanding directions; and
  • Youth whose abilities appear far below other youths of the same age.

Once DJJ identifies a youth with developmental disabilities, then:

  • All programs/facilities will have programs in place to serve the needs of all youth.
  • All programs/facilities will have a procedure to identify placement for youth with severe developmental disabilities who:
    • lack basic survival and self care skills,
    • are dependent on others to assist with personal care,
    • are at risk of arm to self or others.

Access To Care

Someone’s access to quality medical services must, at a minimum, be adversely affected by a 1915 (b)(4) wavier program. A wavier must assure an adequate amount of services are available during reasonable time periods and within reasonable geographic distance from the residence of the youth enrolled under the waiver. Furthermore, access to emergency services and family planning services must not be restricted. 

Screening Process

Upon admission into a Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) program, youth are assessed for the following:

  • Medical and Mental Health concerns. 
  • Suicidal ideations.
  • Symptoms and signs of:
    • Communication difficulties
    • Speech and posture irregularities
    • Impaired level of consciousness
    • Disorganization and memory defects
    • Neglect of physical health
    • Neglect of personal hygiene
    • Agitation

Youth with DD may respond adversely to the admission screening because of physical and emotional trauma, therefore staff may utilize the components below.

  • Reduce environmental noise.
  • Explain to the youth what is being done.
  • Include the youth in decision making.
  • Plan ahead for how to cope with challenging behavior.

Grievance Process

Every youth in a Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) program, has a right to file a grievance, if he/she feels his/her rights have been violated.

A youth has the right to grieve the actions of program staff, conditions, and circumstances in the residential commitment program that the youth believes violates his/her rights.

DJJ requires each residential commitment program to have a written procedure for a grievance and appeal process.  The procedure must ensure that DJJ staff handle grievances without interference or delay.  Grievances can be appealed up to the Program Director.


  • Department of Juvenile Justice
  • The Department of Juvenile Justice Inspector General investigates complaints received about DJJ programs