By April Warren
A belief that children in Alachua County might not be getting the care they need because of a fragmented system has sparked the County Commission to action.
Commissioners gave the thumbs up Tuesday to a $47,250 contract with WellFlorida Council Inc. to conduct a children services needs assessment.
The work will focus on three main areas: early childhood, ages 0-5, and maternal and family support and child wellness, which includes physical, nutrition and behavioral health.
The assessment will look at current community strengths and weaknesses in these areas, plus available programs, services and resources in addition to gaps and overlaps. The work will also look at access to services by geographic area.
The work will not be limited to just health needs but will also incorporate other elements, such as whether children are ready to learn and thrive in school.
The result will help the county in future policy decisions. A meeting is already slated for the morning of Jan. 26 to talk about ways to pay for the assessment’s recommendations. A preliminary discussion Tuesday included talk of possible special assessment districts.
The needs assessment will take six months and begins in February. The county manager will have to approve the contract with WellFlorida, one of the state’s 11 local health councils. The nonprofit agencies conduct regional health planning and implementation activities.
In 2010, a community health needs assessment was conducted by the health department looking at the community as a whole.
According to Candie Nixon, the county’s social services director, her department recently conducted a brief survey of area stakeholders to find out if a child-specific assessment had been done.
“What we found out, there has not been an assessment done, but pieces of the puzzle were there,” Nixon said. Area stakeholders like United Way, Meridian Behavioral Healthcare and others had some data.
According to Jeff Feller, chief financial officer of WellFlorida, this new assessment would bring all of that data together and create a system that could be monitored going forward.
“That’s a big part of this process,” he said.
“One of the things we want to focus on is not just the gaps in our needs, we also want to articulate through data the needs as they are being met now,” Feller said.
The assessment received positive feedback from the board in the form of a unanimous vote.
“I’m all in on this issue,” said Commissioner Ken Cornell. “I love it.”