Creating a Legacy for Children

Home Magazine Gainesville
By Dorothy Benson, Dorothy Thomas and Lita Tholen

There were more than 10,000 children born in Alachua County in the last five years. What services have they received? Have they had regular health checks? Are they ready for kindergarten? What about the older children? Are they reading on grade level? Do they have enriching afterschool and summer activities?

The Campaign for Children’s Trust will answer these questions as well as two more: What do ALL children need to succeed? How can we best support children who might need a little more?

The Trust, an outgrowth of local grassroots efforts to make sure our county’s children have what they need to thrive – from before birth through their high school years – will serve every child in Alachua County.

So…What is a Children’s Trust?
The Children’s Trust is a Children’s Services Council (CSC), which is overseen by an independent board comprised of 10 members and governed by Florida Statute 125.901. This board will ensure that every individual and organization that shapes the lives of children in Alachua County are focused on our local children’s needs. These 10 local leaders will include our school superintendent, a school board member, a county commissioner, a family court judge and the head of our local Department of Children and Families. Five additional spots will be filled with Alachua County citizens.

The Children’s Trust will guarantee funding for children, with a strategic long-term vision, moving beyond year-to-year budget cycles. This collaborative, innovative approach will allow us to create a “whole systems” framework, which includes identifying gaps and reducing duplication, thus spending our resources wisely and eliminating barriers for families.

Because voters will reauthorize the Children’s Trust every 12 years, the funding cannot be taken away in times of a tight budget or used for anything other than what is best for local children.

Building on Innovative Programs for Infants and Toddlers
Two years ago, our county commissioners provided seed money for innovative pilot programs for children, from prenatal to five years of age, and established the Alachua County Children’s Services Advisory Board (CSAB). One of these pilots, the NewboRN Home Visit Program, gives each mother in Alachua County an opportunity to have an RN visit their home in the first week after discharge from the hospital. We know that babies don’t come with owner’s manuals, and new parents can ask questions ranging from safe sleeping arrangements (back is best!) to breastfeeding issues, to deeper concerns such as postpartum depression. The RN can connect new mothers and fathers to the resources they need and help get each baby off to their very best start.

Everyone wins when our children can access high quality, early learning opportunities that get them ready for kindergarten. To that end, a second pilot was created in partnership with one of our greatest assets – the experts at the University of Florida.

Alachua County’s CSAB partnered with the early learning experts at the UF Anita Zucker Center for Excellence in Early Childhood Studies to develop Transformative Professional Development (TPD) for the child-care center teachers who serve our county’s youngest children. To best support them, Alachua County Early Learning Coalition’s coaches will take the best practices developed by UF directly into our early learning centers countywide. As more children receive highquality, early-learning supports and become more kindergarten ready, our local teachers and all their students benefit in their classrooms.

Even parents who can provide their children with the most opportunities want to know which early learning child-care center will provide the quality experiences their child needs, or which afterschool program will be engaging and enriching for their children.

The Children’s Trust can verify and raise the quality of these programs for children, and parents can go to work assured their children are receiving the very best care. The Children’s Trust will create the funding to ensure these pilot programs are fully functioning as they develop and reach capacity and will allow our local experts to expand children’s services to our school-age children.

A Modest Investment
Multiple studies have shown that investment in early childhood development yields a high return on investment. Conservatively, every $1 invested in children yields a savings of $7 to taxpayers – like you and me – in reduced crime, less remediation and increased productivity in adulthood.

When children’s needs are not met in their early years, it effects everyone. A child who isn’t prepared to learn in kindergarten is less likely to read on grade level by fourth grade. Additionally, those fourth graders are much less likely to graduate high school. They are also more likely to be held back, to be involved in the justice system, and not be prepared for college or the workforce. These outcomes represent costs to taxpayers. It makes sense (and cents!) to invest in our local children.

The median household in Alachua County will contribute $3.06 or less each month (that’s just 75 cents a week) to provide quality, early education and afterschool opportunities for children. That’s a great investment.

The Children’s Trust’s Goals
Early childhood is a critical time for a child, as 85 percent of a child’s brain develops in the first five years of life. The Children’s Trust can invest in early support systems so children grow up safe, healthy and prepared when they start kindergarten.

Additionally, we know it is critical for children to be on reading level before the end of third grade, a crucial year for academic development. To ensure we are raising readers, the Children Trust can invest in tutoring and literacy programs to ensure more students read at grade level.

Finally, we know that our youth stay focused and stay out of trouble when they have access to safe, quality afterschool and summer programs. The Children’s Trust can invest in providing greater access to quality out-of-school enrichment activities for elementary school children and vocational training for teens.

We can all work together so babies are born healthy, grow up safe, are ready for kindergarten and are reading on grade level by the end of their third-grade school year. This will ensure our children graduate from high school with the skills they need to go on to higher education, enter a vocation or enter our workforce.

When children thrive, our entire community prospers.

Please visit: ChildrensTrustOfAlachuaCounty.org and consider volunteering, endorsing or donating to our campaign and vote YES for the Children’s Trust on November 6th!

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