The Children’s Trust, an organization that strives to support and improve the lives of children and their families throughout Miami-Dade County, has announced an $84 million investment benefiting organizations of all sizes in order to better serve the community.
The investment will recur annually for the next five years. The trust says that $54 million is set to support youth after-school care and summer programs. This increase in funding will allow programming in Miami to increase by 50 percent.
The Children's Trust aims to enhance and support the Miami-Dade community by advocating for and funding investments and programs with youth and families in mind.
Many organizations are first-time funding recipients, including EnFamilia, which supports family life through arts and education; Honey Shine, which mentors girls ages 8-18 and provides workshops and a summer camp; and Musicall, which strives to ensure all children have access to music education.
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The sold-out 13th annual Champions for Children Awards Ceremony on Thursday will recognize child and family advocates who have gone above and beyond to assist and support the Miami-Dade community through philanthropic and legal actions.
Miami-Dade Public Defender Carlos J. Martinez will be awarded the Excellence in Public Policy Award for his contributions to juvenile defenders over the last 30 years. Martinez's advocacy for at-risk youth has resulted in policy changes that have greatly aided juvenile defenders. As a result of his work, bills that increase the confidentiality of juvenile defenders, eradicate school arrests for minor offenses, and terminate mandatory life sentences for juveniles tried in adult court have been implemented, among many others, according to the Children's Trust.
Martinez said that one of his greatest accomplishments is the elimination of shackling in juvenile court. In 2006, he challenged the practice, which he described as "dehumanizing and humiliating" for children. This way, he said, "we can rehabilitate them going forward."
Martinez also helped decrease the number of school arrests, according to the Miami-Dade County Juvenile Services Department / Quest Analytics and Department of Juvenile Justice Information System: 2005 saw 2,190 arrests while 2017 saw only 247. The significant reduction was partly due to conversations Martinez was starting.
Miami-Dade County has made huge strides in children's advocacy, Martinez said, but there is still more to come. Far too many children and families are victimized by gun violence on a daily basis.
"It's as bad as a war in some ways," Martinez said. "They are living in a state of fear when they should be focusing on having a childhood, going to school, being able to learn."
Martinez believes the elimination of gun violence, in addition to improving the lives of parents as well as children, is crucial to Miami-Dade County's future. "Too many children have parents who have been locked into a cycle of poverty because of having some kind of arrest in their background," he said. "There are people who could be in the workforce but cannot be because of the limitations from a prior criminal record."
Juvenile Division Circuit Court Judge Cindy S. Lederman will accept the David Lawrence Jr. Champion for Children Award for her lifetime of support for and dedication to the needs of children. She encouraged the use of science and research in courts as a means to help children in more empirical ways.
In an op-ed piece she wrote for the Miami Herald earlier this year, Lederman raised awareness of the rights of minors to an attorney, and urged Floridians to approach with hesitation the Constitutional Revision Commission's Proposal 40.
Earl Maulding, director of Theatre for Young Audiences at Actors' Playhouse in Coral Gables, will receive the Excellence in Direct Service Award.