Three months after announcing a coordinated effort to prevent youth gun violence, a coalition called Together for Children is putting money behind the initiative.
The Children’s Trust, one of the coalition members, has put out four requests for proposals over the past month, calling on organizations working with vulnerable youth to submit proposals for nearly $14 million in funding. Although most of the money was previously available for youth programs, the taxpayer funded trust has tailored the requests based on a series of meetings Together for Children has hosted with residents in the most affected neighborhoods.
This is the latest step in a process the coalition — which includes Miami-Dade County, the Miami-Dade school district, the Office of the State Attorney and the U.S. Attorney’s Office — hopes will stem the bloodshed in the county. Over the last ten years, at least 19 children under the age of 13 have been killed by guns in Miami-Dade, along with dozens of teenagers. On the heels of the death of 8-year-old Jada Page, who was shot in the head in Northwest Miami Dade shortly after starting fourth grade, the coalition announced in early September that it had identified roughly 2,000 children in 20 zip codes who were most at risk of getting caught up in the violence. The coalition asked residents for help identifying the root causes of the violence and developing a plan to prevent it.
Over the last three months, Together for Children has organized dozens of meetings including brainstorming sessions at public libraries and schools throughout the county and presentations to community groups, along with efforts to reach out to student leaders and teens in alternative education programs and the juvenile justice system.
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“To have people meeting regularly to talk about any issue is just a phenomenal thing,” said James Haj, the president and CEO of The Children’s Trust. “If we do this well this is also going to be the type of system that can lend itself to other issues. We have taken large bureaucratic organizations, torn down the walls and started working together.”
Some residents at the meetings expressed hope that the coordinated approach would focus resources on the neediest children, while others were skeptical that interest in tackling the problem would last. One common complaint has been the lack of funding to sustain successful programs that are already in place, which is something The Children’s Trust hopes to address with its request for proposals. The trust plans to fund programs focused on four areas: early childhood education, summer programs for teens, mental health services and support for low-income families in the neighborhoods identified as high-risk by the coalition.
Miami-Dade County has also pledged funding to prevent youth violence. When Together for Children first announced the initiative in September, Mayor Carlos Gimenez said the county had allocated close to $3 million to its juvenile services department to provide programs for the at-risk youth and planned to create additional youth programs through the parks department.
The Miami-Dade school district plans to contribute funds once Together for Children has finalized an action plan, in addition to services like counseling that it already provides to at-risk students.
“I believe this is probably the best chance we have as a community to rebuild hope back into the lives of kids, particularly those that are at greatest risk in our community,” Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said. “No doubt we are where we are today as a result of the buildup of community tragedies. We have buried too many kids, we have seen too many kids being gunned down and victimized in our community And often the difference between the perpetrator and the victim is a difference of timing, who got to who first.”
Together for Children plans to host another round of meetings in mid-January to continue the conversation with those most affected by the violence.