Op-Ed

We must not tolerate children killing children

Tawana Akins, far right, organized a rally that drew hundreds of supporters in the wake of 6-year-old King Carter’s death.
Tawana Akins, far right, organized a rally that drew hundreds of supporters in the wake of 6-year-old King Carter’s death. Miami Herald

This new year, 2017, won’t bring miracles without united determined action. Ten people shot during the first week of the year. We all want it to stop.

There is not a parent or grandparent in our community who believes an 8-year-old girl, standing in front of a home with her father, should have her future stolen because a bullet missed the shooter’s target. Jada Page’s young life ended that way.

There is not a neighbor or police officer who thinks it is acceptable for a 12-year-old girl, sitting at her grandmother’s feet, getting her hair braided before the first day of school, to be shot in the head, as bullets rip through the home. Tequila Forshee will never have another first day of school.

There is not a coach, pastor or counselor who wants to live in a society in which young shooters drive by and open fire on other youth as they play basketball in a bustling neighborhood park. That shooting at Arcola Park sent five young men and four teenage boys to the hospital with gunshot wounds.

No one in our community can shrug off the fact that a 6-year-old boy with a bright smile, walking through his own apartment complex on his way to buy candy, was caught in the crossfire of rival gangs. King Carter’s young dreams will never be realized.

These are only a few of the heartbreaking tragedies that have so deeply affected Miami-Dade’s families and neighborhoods.

In our hearts, we are all together for children. Now is the time to demonstrate it through actions. We can wait no longer to collaboratively address the root causes of this community emergency that rests, morally, with all of us. Although appropriate and aggressive enforcement is essential, even enforcement requires all members of the community to be vigilantly part of the solution.

The work of the Together for Children coalition began with a collaboration among more than a dozen anchor institutions including Miami-Dade County Public Schools, Miami-Dade County, State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle and The Children’s Trust. We first convened in April 2016. After that meeting, we did our homework and took first steps in this comprehensive effort to assess gaps in services, improve data review and referral processes, and address identified duplication of efforts.

In September 2016, together with leaders of other anchor institutions, we publicly offered an invitation to all community members to attend planning meetings to contribute to the work.

Since then, participation in the Together for Children coalition has grown exponentially. Through dozens of outreach efforts, including more than 2,000 community voices across the county, the coalition has propelled the core mission of this work forward: creating neighborhood action plans formulated to address the root causes of youth violence.

Based on a snapshot of data, including crime statistics and research about early-warning signs related to youth violence, the Together for Children coalition initially used this vital information to understand the magnitude of the challenge.

Neighborhood action plans, developed with parents, neighbors, police officers, clergy, community-based organizations, and youth will address this reality and will proffer collaborative solutions. Solutions that will:

▪ Streamline and deepen interagency case management and collaboration;

▪ Increase after-school, mentoring and enrichment programs;

▪ Expand access to family-focused interventions, trauma-informed care and mental health supports;

▪ Increase job placements, internships and employability counseling services;

▪ Provide tangible steps for holistic community involvement; and

▪ Define success metrics and hold ourselves accountable to addressing the root causes of youth violence.

As part of The Children’s Trust’s current investment portfolio, The Trust has made a significant commitment to support projects and programs that align with the Together for Children mission of reducing youth violence by joining forces collaboratively to offer services, programs, and outreach to vulnerable youth and their families.

This work supports existing efforts led by Miami-Dade County Public Schools to address student absenteeism. Additionally, Miami-Dade increased its budget to offer more referrals for care coordination, therapy and other social services to youth.

The collaboration required for the work ahead is ongoing. Community members are strongly encouraged and welcomed to join the effort. To learn about upcoming events and to view feedback from meetings held to date, log onto togetherforchildren.dadeschools.net.

The work of the Together for Children coalition is complex. While there’ll always be room to strengthen partnerships and enhance services, and critics may point out as much, together a difference can be made. We’re determined to protect our children.

That is why this effort must move forward.

Alberto M. Carvalho is superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools. Carlos A. Gimenez is mayor of Miami-Dade County.

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