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Advocates Come Together To Increase Awareness Of Children's Issues

The latest report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation shows Florida’s progress in several key indicators is starting to stall when it comes to improving the lives of children. While Florida has made progress in areas like educational outcomes it continues to rank near the bottom of states on other points. Now a leading children’s advocacy organization is calling for changes.

In Leon County, home to the state capital, county commissioners are considering a new tax. One that’s aimed at boosting children’s services. Children’s Campaign of Florida founder Roy Miller called those levies a good idea:

“It won’t remove the need for the state to step up investment…but it certainly makes a big improvement. And it's also improvement in terms of service coordination and new models of care," he told reporters Thursday during a press conference to announce a new statewide partnership.

Leon County officials are considering creating a new group that would be able to levy the tax, worth an estimated $8 million. However, there’s still debate over how the money would be used. Ideas include funneling more money to address homelessness, mental health and juvenile incarceration. The Leon School district would like funding to support early childhood education.  A similar tax is in play in Lee, Orange and Brevard Counties. And Miller says that’s because the state isn’t properly funding those services.

“Across the board, prenatal programs, special needs, child protection, foster care, gender-specific responses and foster care…are struggling under the weight of too much demand in a fast-growing state and not enough resources.” 

TheChildren’s Campaign is partnering with other advocacy groups from across the state to address what they say are neglected children’s issues.

In its annual Kids Count report, the Annie E. Casey Foundation notes Florida’s progress has stagnated. Despite some educational gains the state is in the bottom when it comes to overall child well-being due to little progress made in addressing poverty, and the increase in drug overdoses due to the opioid epidemic.  The high rate of overdoses is leaving children parent-less, steering them into the state’s foster care system. And Hillsboro County has become the focal point of the problem.

“The number of students has grown significantly. There’s a much higher rate of removal in Hillsboro County than anywhere else in the state. And those children, we knew 10 months ago we had a problem," said Lutheran Services Florida’s Chris Card.

Card says there aren’t enough foster homes to take care of the kids in need, leading to some sleeping in the offices of social workers and even in cars.

And the Children’s Campaign’s Miller is also worried about how the debate over gun control is affecting another issue: mental health, where services for kids are also in short supply:

“We want to make sure that tragedy is not equated with mental health services. Stigma keeps a lot of people from seeking help.”  

Florida lawmakers approved millions in mental health funding as a part of its response to the Parkland shooting. But many mental health organizations are concerned about the thin line they say exists between punishment and treatment. 

Follow @HatterLynn

Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

Find complete bio, contact info, and more stories here.