As we reflect back on our 10 years of existence, we should recognize that The Children’s Trust has truly impacted the lives of children and families across Miami-Dade County.
Before our first grant award in the summer of 2004, the landscape was quite different. Quality summer camps were unaffordable for most working-class families; the summer option was essentially remedial instruction offered by public schools for students at risk of failing. Afterschool care was a way to pass the time until mom or dad finished work; and there was little or no assessment of children’s progress in these programs. Teens uninvolved in school sports or clubs had precious few other opportunities for healthy engagement and artistic expression. Teen pregnancy was on the rise, and young men prone to risky behavior frequently suffered run-ins with the law.
School administrative staff was too often charged with deciding whether a student feeling ill should be sent home or return to class. One in five, or 110,000, Miami-Dade children under 18 were uninsured. Organized efforts to infuse early child care with educational standards were few; more than six in 10 youngsters were not ready to enter kindergarten. Parenting classes for the most part meant an intervention for when a parent, child or youth had gotten into trouble.
Things have truly changed, and, while The Children’s Trust cannot take full credit, our role as an agent of change has been significant. Our focus on more universal programming has made after-school and summer programs available to far more families than ever before and these programs are more engaging, educational, and results-driven. Instead of wandering the streets after school, thousands of teens and preteens have meaningful options to express themselves creatively and practice positive social behaviors. The teen birth rate has dropped from 39.8 to 24.4 births per thousand. The number of referrals/arrests for youths 10-17 has dipped from 7,882 to 4,285 over the past seven years.
Students who feel ill at school can be treated by a health professional at more than half the county’s schools, and services offered there now focus on the whole child. The number of uninsured children has dropped to one in seven, or 79,000.
Half of the county’s children are now ready to enter kindergarten, a percentage we certainly hope to continue to increase. While many factors have influenced these decreases, we assert that our programs and initiatives have contributed significantly to these shifts in the socio-economic terrain of the county to the benefit of children and families.
Thanks to the tenacity of my predecessor and founding Board Chair, David Lawrence Jr., voters in our community voted to tax themselves for children and then reaffirmed that commitment in 2008 with an astonishing margin of victory never seen before or since. It shows what a generous community we really are — and that’s something I often hear as I travel around the state.
We have never taken the public’s trust for granted and we take our fiscal stewardship very seriously. Since our inception, 315,000 individual children, youth, parents, and caregivers have benefitted from one or more ongoing service programs; nearly 97,400 students made 1.2 million visits to our school health suites; an estimated 67,800 infants and young children have been cared for by providers in our child care quality improvement initiative; and hundreds of thousands of families have been served through our 2-1-1 Helpline, community outreach, and public awareness efforts – amounting to countless beneficiaries throughout our county of our $623.5 million in investments.
In 2010, The Children’s Trust Board of Directors ratified a new results-based strategic plan to guide investments through 2015. In accordance with this accountable, results-based plan, investments are slowly shifting towards a more balanced approach across all result areas.
In these 10 years, we have come a long way and done a lot of good for the children and families in Miami-Dade County. We’re not yet where we want to be, but we hope to get there – and we will only do that by continuing to work together with all of our partners in the community.
As you welcome the New Year, we hope you will take a moment to reflect on our contributions to Miami-Dade’s children and families at this important juncture in our short history.
Maria Alonso is chair of The Children’s Trust.