State ends contract with AMIKids, other day programs

AMIKids teacher Asia Hutchings
AMIKids teacher Asia Hutchings helps a student with classwork.
Photo by J.C. Derrick

The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) has chosen not to renew contracts with Facility Based and Community Day Treatment programs, including AMIKids in Gainesville.  

As of June 30, AMIKids will lose the funding from the DJJ that currently allows it to operate, leaving some students with limited education options. 

In an April 25 email to board members, AMIKids CEO Mike Thornton, who is based in Tampa, wrote that DJJ had not offered many details, but had said the government agency was moving in “a new direction with community-based services.” 

Become A Member

Mainstreet does not have a paywall, but pavement-pounding journalism is not free. Join your neighbors who make this vital work possible.

AMIKids, an intervention program that uses positive reinforcement with local at-risk and delinquent youth, has six locations in Florida that will be affected, including one in Gainesville. 

Some of AMIKids’ students are referred by Alachua County Public Schools (ACPS) after racking up a disciplinary record, but most are referred by DJJ. 

AMIKids Gainesville sent letters home with its 16 current students last week, explaining the situation to them and their families. Ten of those students were DJJ referrals, and as the program is losing DJJ funding, those students are being sent back to probation. 

Jasmin Hall, executive director at AMIKids Gainesville, said some students are excited to go back to a regular school setting, though they may realistically be sent to alternative placements. Others—and their parents—are concerned because they are losing the small, focused environment. 

“One mother was definitely not happy with the news, because she has been able to see a change in her son,” Hall said in a phone interview. 

Though DJJ referrals are being placed elsewhere, Hall said AMIKids is working out a way to stay in the community and serve the youth. She said the program is working with ACPS, though no plans are yet set in place and the program will likely look different. 

“We want to continue to keep operating, working and empowering,” Hall said. 

The DJJ’s “new direction” includes Requests for Proposal (RFPs), which are open calls for organizations to bid their projects to be funded. Thornton said AMIKids plans to apply for the RFPs when they are sent out. 

Jasmin Hall, executive director for AMIKids Gainesville.
Photo by Glory Reitz Jasmin Hall, executive director for AMIKids Gainesville, works in her office.

Hall said AMIKids is also looking for other funding opportunities and partnerships, and the best way the community can help is through financial contributions. 

The program receives its funding from ACPS, the Department of Education (DOE) and the Department of Labor, but most funding comes from DJJ—which had already decreased its funding for AMIKids across the state. 

The program’s 2024 budget of $1.4 million includes $770,000 from DJJ. 

Thornton requested in his email for board members across the state to help connect their local programs’ executive directors with contacts, donors and funding opportunities, and asked for input on fundraising strategies. 

“AMIkids has a rich history spanning over 55 years, during which we have continually adapted to changing funding landscapes,” Thornton wrote. “Our ability to embrace change has been a cornerstone of our success, and I have full confidence that we will navigate through this transition period and continue to fulfill our mission of positively impacting young lives.” 

Notify of
1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
James Gardner

AMI Kids is the best program out there for this real need for real kids with real challenges. This current push toward other program types that are unproven and often run by the police, like Reichert house, are the problem not the answer. Police need to police and professional counselors and teachers need to work with “at risk youth”. Programs like AMI are heavily monitored for a myriad of requirements and in a results based system that is tracked by the state and has been very successful. These new “community based programs” are not tracked or held accountable to any standards. They operate outside any oversight. This is happening because people like Tony Jones are using their connections with DJJ to keep their people in the money. GPD and the city need to support real programs, with real results that are monitored and evaluated for results. This move by DJJ is not going to go well for the kids that need real help. It is not “kids first”. I’m very disappointed that politics is winning and real programs are losing. My prayers are for the kids who seem to be an afterthought with this “new direction”.