The Children’s Trust marks 10 years of helping kids, families

The Children’s Trust marks its 10th anniversary by looking back on the impact it has made on the lives of children and families across Miami-Dade County.

“Thanks to the tenacity of my predecessor and founding board chair David Lawrence Jr., voters in our community voted in 2002 to tax themselves for children and then reaffirmed that commitment in 2008 with an astonishing margin of victory never seen before or since,” said Maria Alonso, chair of The Children’s Trust Board of Directors. “It shows what a generous community we really are — and that’s something I often hear as I travel around the state

” The Children’s Trust has sought to earn the public’s trust as worthy stewards of their hard-earned money and has done so by seeking data-driven results and by following the highest standards of ethics and transparency. Its diverse 33-member board is intentionally representative of the many players and organizations that serve children and families in Miami- Dade County and work to achieve systemic change.

Before its 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 essentially was remedial instruction offered by public schools for students at risk of failing. After-school 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 not involved 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 members too often were 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 childcare 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.

“While our commitment has always been to serve all children, we also have been committed to investing most heavily in those neighborhoods and communities where our most vulnerable children live and where there are concentrations of violence and crime, school failure, and poor health outcomes,” said Modesto E. Abety- Gutierrez, president and CEO of The Children’s Trust.

Things have truly changed, and, while The Children’s Trust cannot take full credit, its role as an agent of change has been significant. Its 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. It has greatly expanded opportunities for children with special needs by insisting upon inclusion as a condition of Trust funding.

Instead of wandering the streets after school, thousands of teens and preteens now have more 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.

The Trust has created a national model for school-based health. 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 — their physical as well as their mental health. The number of uninsured children has dropped to one in seven, or 79,000.

Parents are learning more than ever that they are their child’s best first teacher, and that quality childcare is central to their child’s future success. More early childhood educators are embracing quality standards and see their field as a respected and viable profession. Half of the county’s children are now ready to enter kindergarten and efforts will be made to continue to increase that percentage.

While many factors have influenced these decreases, The Children’s Trust asserts that its programs and initiatives have contributed significantly to these shifts in the socio-economic terrain of the county to the benefit of children and families.

Since the inception of The Children’s Trust, 315,000 individual children, youth, parents, and caregivers have benefited from one or more ongoing service programs; nearly 97,400 students made 1.2 million visits to its school health suites; an estimated 67,800 infants and young children have been cared for by providers in The Trust’s childcare quality improvement initiative, and hundreds of thousands of families have been served through The Children’s Trust 2-1-1 helpline, community outreach, and public awareness efforts — amounting to countless beneficiaries of its $623.5 million in investments throughout Miami-Dade County.

Two years ago, The Trust launched its most ambitious initiative to date — Read to Learn. Helping children to become better readers has become a nationwide crusade, and locally The Children’s Trust is spearheading the campaign. Children learn to read beginning at birth and, by the age of 8 must be able to make the transition from learning to read to reading to learn.

In these 10 years,The Children’s Trust has come a long way and done a lot of good for the children and families in Miami- Dade County. By continuing to work together with all of its partners in the community,

The Children’s Trust hopes to generate even more progress in the years ahead. The Children’s Trust is a dedicated source of revenue established by voter referendum to improve the lives of children and families in Miami-Dade County.

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