News & Events

Michael Goforth: Children getting vital attention on the Treasure Coast

I wrote last week — as I’ve done too many times over the years — that Florida remains one of the worst states in the nation when it comes to the well-being of its children.

Most recently, the 25th annual report by the nonprofit Annie E. Casey Foundation ranked the state an embarrassing 38th in key areas, including economic well-being, education, health, family and community.

But, in almost all other areas, the state also ranks poorly when it comes to making children a priority among political leaders and policy makers.

I wrote, “The state must … consider children and their specific needs when setting policies, passing laws and producing budgets. More money is not the answer as much as using the money available better. Without investing in our children appropriately, we’re not investing wisely in our own future as a state.”

Yet, while the state overall continues to put too little emphasis on the needs of children, there are bright spots in which local communities have demonstrated their concern for children and have been willing to fund programs and projects to address their needs.

That is particularly true on the Treasure Coast.

In 1988, Martin was the first county on the Treasure Coast to get voter approval for creation of a Children’s Services Council — a local taxing authority with funds directed toward services for children. St. Lucie County followed two years later. Indian River County opted for creation of a Children’s Services Advisory Committee as an arm of the Board of Commissioners rather than adopting a Children’s Services Council with its own taxing authority.

But, in each county, taxpayers contribute to making their communities better for children. That’s important. And, it makes a difference.

And, the organizations, regardless of their makeup, have consistently put politics aside and focused laser-like on the specific needs of the children they were designed to serve.

However, in a recent guest column here, Jim Vojcsik, executive director of the United Way of Martin County, wrote, in part, “This year, one of United Way of Martin County’s best community partners, the Children’s Services Council of Martin County, is in jeopardy. In November, voters will decide whether to reauthorize the council’s ability to collect tax dollars to fund, oversee and plan programs that have a positive, measurable impact on children and families in our community. I urge everyone to take the time to learn about the council and how it benefits our community, because this referendum is very important to the future of Martin County.”

Politics entered the issue of funding for Children’s Services Councils throughout the state due to legislation introduced in 2010 by state Sen. Joe Negron of Stuart. Each of the state’s handful of Children’s Services Councils, which had previously gotten voter approval as special taxing districts, must be reauthorized in referendums by 2016.

Both the Martin and St. Lucie councils will be voted on in November of this year.

In Martin County, the council raises about $6 million annually through taxes specifically designated for funding of the council and programs it supports. In St. Lucie County, about $7 million in taxes is collected annually for its council, which amounts to about $25 per homeowner, a pretty small investment in children and the future.

The St. Lucie County Children’s Services Council will officially kick off its campaign for passage of the November referendum on Sept. 18 at Scott Van Duzer’s Big Apple Pizza in Fort Pierce. Planning for the campaign began about a year ago.

According to the council’s website, “Since our inception, St. Lucie County has seen a 40 percent reduction in youth alcohol use, 43 percent reduction in juvenile crime, 54 percent reduction in infant mortality, 65 percent reduction in child abuse, and 80 percent reduction in teen birth rate.”

That kind of success is one for which all councils, the nonprofit organizations they support, staff members and citizens should be proud. People with a commitment to improving the lives of children and families in their own communities are doing what those in Tallahassee are not doing.

The councils and advisory committees like that in Indian River County are vital. The councils this year, especially, must continue to receive support from voters and taxpayers.