Statewide Campaign Launched to Improve FL Children's Well-Being
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Children's advocates in Florida say state officials need to put just as much effort into improving the lives of families, as they do promoting tourism or the state's business climate. They say that lack of focus is one reason Florida ranks in the bottom 10 states for child well-being.
The new Kids Count Child Well-Being Index ranks Florida's 67 counties on 16 indicators of how kids fare in health, economic, educational and community factors. It shows nearly 870,000 children, or more than one in five, live in poverty.
Roy Miller, president and founder of the Children's Campaign, sees it as proof that the state needs to shine a bigger spotlight on these issues to turn things around.
"It says that Florida is in crisis in terms of the health and well-being of its children,” says Miller. “And we need new solutions, we need new commitments in order to move the ranking of Florida in a positive direction."
The report shows modest improvement statewide for fewer students living in poverty and more graduating on time. More a dozen organizations have launched the "Made in Florida, 100 Percent for Civic Engagement" campaign to get leaders to use the report findings and examine their current policies.
Among the largest counties, Miami-Dade ranked 62nd overall for families' economic well-being. Broward County ranked 45th, Orange ranked 46th, and Hillsborough 26th.
Cindy Arenberg Seltzer is the president and CEO of the Children's Services Council of Broward County. She says the high cost of living in bigger cities is one factor affecting how parents can care for their children.
"Our smaller counties are doing better,” she says. “Your larger counties are struggling more, and a lot of it is the economics."
The report says 74 percent of Florida fourth graders are not proficient in English, and 78 percent of eighth graders need help with math. For child health, it shows progress has stalled in a couple of areas.
Norin Dollard, director of Florida Kids Count, says not all the results are bad, and notes the problems can be fixed.
"And it's not that we have not made improvements, but other states have made greater gains when it comes to investing in their kids,” says Dollard. “We've made tremendous gains in Florida in terms of getting kids health insurance."
Dollard says policymakers can have an impact by investing in kids. Florida's study was conducted by researchers at the University of South Florida's College of Behavioral and Community Sciences, and funded in part by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.