Nathan Crabbe: Collaborate to help our county’s children

Gainesville Sun

Given the educational institutions we have in our community, Alachua County should perform better than around the middle of the pack when it comes to taking care of children.

Yet Alachua County ranked 31st out of 67 Florida counties in the 2018 Child Well-being Index. The index, released in April by Florida Kids Count, measures the status of children in areas such as educational outcomes, health and poverty.

Florida ranked 40th among states in the group’s 2017 rankings, so being near the middle of the pack among Florida’s counties is no badge of honor. The rankings show that Alachua County has work to do in areas such as improving student proficiency in English and math and the enrollment of 3- and 4-year-olds in schooling.

Thankfully something is being done about these problems — with more help hopefully on the way. Thursday’s ribbon-cutting of the CHILD Center for Early Learning in the Linton Oaks neighborhood is an example of the collaboration happening to improve the lives of local children and families.

The center is the latest project in the area served by the Southwest Advocacy Group (SWAG), which formed a decade age to address the concentration of poverty and associated social problems there. The center will provide high-quality care for children and their families in these neighborhoods while benefiting kids across the community.

The University of Florida’s Anita Zucker Center for Excellence in Early Childhood Studies is making the CHILD Center a model for using the best research in the education and development of young children. Child-care providers throughout the area will be able to come there to learn these methods.

Zucker Center Director Patricia Snyder said the project is an example of “not continuing to do the same things and getting the same results, but doing things differently and transformationally and expecting positive and very different and exciting results.”

She noted the CHILD Center was made possible through the “synergy” of various groups, including county government, the Early Learning Coalition of Alachua County, O2B Kids, the school district, SWAG and the Zucker Center. Our community needs more partnerships between UF and community groups, as well as these groups working together on shared goals, to reduce racial and socioeconomic disparities.

The Children’s Trust initiative on the November ballot would empower more of that kind of collaboration. By passing the small property tax increase, voters would fund efforts similar to the CHILD Center that prepare children for school and life.

Alachua County should lead the state in taking care of its children, not fall in the middle of the pack. If we commit to doing things differently, we can help our neediest children succeed while providing community-wide benefits.

 

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