Our kids can count on the Children’s Trust

Gainesville Sun
By Dorothy Thomas and Dorothy Benson

In the Nov. 6 election, Alachua County voters have the opportunity to create the Children’s Trust of Alachua County, which will solely focus on the health, well-being and success of our children.

The Children’s Trust has earned the endorsements of 34 local organizations, including The Sun, as well as endorsements from dozens of local leaders. They know that the Children’s Trust can be transformative for our community and that the money generated to fund the Children’s Trust will be used wisely.

Eight other counties in Florida have children’s services councils that successfully provide programs for children and families, including Martin and St. Lucie counties, which are similar in size to Alachua County. All children’s services councils in the state are governed by Florida Statute Sec. 125.901, which sets forth very specific and rigorous rules for how the councils must operate, what they can spend tax dollars to support and how they must report financial data. This framework is designed to ensure accountability, transparency and that funded services for children are data-driven.

Alachua County’s Children’s Trust will be governed by a 10-person board, including five automatic members (the superintendent of public schools, a School Board member, a juvenile court judge, the director of the Department of Child and Family Services and a county commissioner) and five community members.

The five community members can submit their applications now and the County Commission will select three potential board members to fill each spot. The next governor will then appoint one of the three community members for each position for a term of four years. The board can seek additional involvement from community members by creating advisory groups to assist in gathering and evaluating information.

So once the board is formed, how will community members be involved in deciding how the funding is used? The Children’s Trust board will be required to make its decisions in full compliance with Florida’s Sunshine Law, which requires transparency and openness for all meetings of government and quasi-governmental agencies.

Decisions and recommendations for funding will be made in open public forums. The statute requires that notice be provided to the public, and minutes will be kept for all such meetings. In other words, community members will have access to all the decision-making information and will be given plenty of opportunities for input.

The dollars brought in by the Children’s Trust can be used only to fund programing related to its mission and cannot be diverted to other needs in the community. As soon as the members are appointed, the Children’s Trust board will be required to conduct an asseEvery quarter, the Children’s Trust will be required to publish a financial report of dollars spent, and the Trust will be required to submit an annual report detailing their spending, as well as data and outcomes of the Trust and the local programs it funds.

The strict rules of operation of the board ensure that the Children Trust’s mission remains focused. That mission aligns with much of our community’s priorities: It will fund programs that support children during the times they are not in school, like the years before kindergarten and in the afternoons and during summers.

Moreover, the Children’s Trust will support programing for children that focuses on mental health and social and emotional well-being. It will build in greater quality and access to existing services and help develop equity in our community. A focus on early intervention will reduce future costs and help develop our young people into happy and productive adults.

The Trust will serve as the hub of child advocacy in our county, bringing together the right people, organizations and funding opportunities to ensure a brighter future for our children and youth.
We encourage you to support this initiative for local children and vote yes on the Nov. 6 ballot for the Children’s Trust of Alachua County.

Dorothy Thomas and Dorothy Benson are local community volunteers and organizers of the Children’s Trust initiative. If you have further questions about this initiative, please email
ChildrensTrustofAlachuaCounty@gmail.com.

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