Children’s Council Board Brings Tallahassee Leaders to the Table

By Dr. Stacy Howard, the Florida Children’s Council — Last week, we were so pleased to host a cadre of influential Tallahassee leaders who sat down with the Florida Children’s Council board to share their key priorities for the 2013 Legislative Session. From them, we gained incredible insight into where they believe statewide systems of care can be strengthened, improved, and elevated for the children, families and youth served each year. Our heartfelt thanks to everyone who took time out of their busy days during this legislative season:

It was particularly encouraging to hear how much alignment there was among these leaders’ visions and to hear about their collective focus on prevention – a cornerstone of the Florida Children’s Council’s and local Children’s Services Councils’ work. We heard about specific legislation that each leader was championing, including bills to improve the lives of children aging out of foster care, youth with disabilities ready and able to work, families needing access to affordable healthcare for their young children, the transition to the Common Core standards for our state’s teachers, and bills aimed at diverting youth from entering the formal juvenile justice system.

Another major theme emerged from the day’s discussion: the impending impact of health care reform for our state and our nation. Each agency represented at our board meeting will be impacted in some way by the Florida Legislature’s decisions. Rich Robleto walked members through the complicated matrix of the KidCare program, which provides affordable, accessible health insurance coverage for young children and pregnant women. The complexity arises from the intersection of several programs serving the same populations in different ways including Medikids, Florida Healthy Kids, Medicaid for Children and CHIP. All work together to reduce Florida’s percentage of uninsured from nearly 12 percent to the national average of 7.5 percent. From this discussion, members walked away with a renewed interest in becoming involved in the conversations taking place about next steps and future plans for our state’s health care system.

Some additional highlights include:

  • Secretary Wilkins’ plan to transition to a prevention agenda that will be implemented across the state’s 20 Community Based Care (CBC) organizations and the development of a special budget specifically targeting CBC performance. Secretary Wilkins also acknowledged his support of the Normalcy Bill (SB 164/HB 215), which provides foster children with the opportunity to participate in “normal,” everyday experiences such as extracurricular, enrichment and social activities.
  • Secretary Walters plans to continue to embed prevention strategies in the agency’s strategic plans. She believes it is crucial that children receive the right services, at the right time, in the right dosage.  New in the legislative front is a bill that works to strengthen and enhance the educational aspects of children’s experiences in the juvenile justice system (CS/HB 441).
  • Director Shan Goff shared feedback from House Education Committee Chair Marlene O’Toole and other committee members who embarked on visits to early learning coalitions in their home districts. Reports by members were positive including strong first impressions. Director Goff also shared that she expects a complete rewrite of the governing statute of the School Readiness program (Chapter 411.01, F.S.), which serves at-risk and low-income, working families in need of quality child care to maintain employment.
  • Director Palmer and the Agency for Persons with Disabilities are partnering with the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity to launch a website intended to match employers with youths with disabilities looking for work and create a new resource center where anyone seeking information can search a one-stop shop located on the agency’s website coming soon.
  • In the K-20 arena, the Florida Department of Education is transitioning to Common Core Standards. Public Schools Chancellor Pam Stewart noted that the transition was less about the content of the standards and more about the implementation of these standards in classrooms.
  • Legislative priorities for the Guardian ad Litem include the Normalcy Bill and the Quality Parenting for Children in Foster Care Act (SB 164) intended to provide foster parents more authority in making decisions for the children in their care to ensure positive social, emotional, and physical development.

The day was spent in rich dialogue and information exchange that left us feeling positive about the direction of programs and services targeted at improving the lives of our youngest, most vulnerable, and of all Florida’s children, youth and families. We look forward to working together with each of these speakers and their staffs to ensure our children grow up healthy, safe and ready to learn.