“It is easier to build strong children than it is to repair broken men”
- Frederick Douglass
Most of us are lucky enough to be able to look back on our childhood and remember a few things: eating a delicious lunch at school packed by our parents, participating in fun after school programs, and being able to feel safe playing outside with our friends. Now picture this; going to school without a packed lunch and not having enough money to buy a meal there, having to go home alone and waiting for your parents after they’ve been working extremely long hours, and not being able to play outside without any fear. Tallahassee happens to have one of Florida’s highest crime rates, and with a poverty rate higher than the state’s average, it is time to look at what is contributing to this.
In recent attempts to find these contributing factors, the residents of Leon County have shifted their attention to children living in poverty and have considered the possibility that difficult upbringings and lack of opportunities can lead to a life of crime. Children living in poverty sometimes end up looking up to people who may not be the best role models, which leads to them getting into trouble when trying to support their families and surviving their difficult situations. Leon County is looking to add the formation of a Children’s Services Council (CSC) to the upcoming 2020 ballot in order to hopefully address these issues now. By addressing their lack of resources in the community and by giving these kids opportunities to enrich their lives, they will grow to be contributing members of the community. A Children’s Services Council would meet the needs of Tallahassee’s children by keeping families out of welfare, providing educational school programs from an early age, and giving the opportunity for the kids to be enrolled in summer programs.
What Broward County has done is an excellent example. In 2000, when the bill for a Children’s Services Council was originally on the ballot, it passed with a 59% approval rate. In 2014, when the bill came back on the ballot, it passed again with 76% of the vote! The CSC is working and the county’s residents have noticed. The Broward County Children’s Services Council has had many success stories. For example: the reading proficiency for 3rd graders increased by 5.7%, while Leon County’s decreased by 1.2%; percentage of youth arrests for the last 14 years in Broward County decreased by 86% and Leon County’s only decreased by 37%; Leon County’s total arrests increased from 2016 to 2017 by 9.6%, while Broward’s decreased by 2.4%.
Broward County took problems the community faced and found working solutions. This investment gave the city back a large return and in the future will save it thousands of dollars in incarceration costs- now it is time for Leon County to follow in its footsteps.
Of course, with any progressive proposal, there will always be some pushback. In June 2018 during a Commission meeting, residents of Leon County came together to voice their support. There has been a bit of controversy in regards to staffing and how the money provided by the city will be used. Many of the people in attendance who spoke out against the formation of this council felt that there was no set plan on how the funds would be used or even where the money would come from.
Land owners were upset that the money would come from a new property tax that would be levied; they felt that it was unfair for them to be paying for this. The Leon County CSC would work to coordinate how local funds can fill gaps based on the city’s needs. We all, as a community, need to realize that this council is for the betterment of Leon County. This is about helping those who haven’t had the same opportunities as us. If we have the means, we should be contributing and helping those in need. As one of the speakers mentioned, we pay for social security to help the older population, so we should be willing to make an effort to help children as well. They are the ones who will be working in the future to pay for our social security when we need it.
By the end of the meeting, the majority of residents who spoke were in support- including representatives from the Commission of the Status of Women and Girls and the Survive and Thrive Advocacy Center- as were the commissioners. Most seemed to agree that before granting the money the council needs, there needed to be a plan in place. By adding it to the 2020 ballot, the council will have time to get organized and figure out exactly where these funds will be allocated. The motion to adopt the ordinance to have it placed on the future ballot passed unanimously.
The CSC Planning Committee, made up of 20 Leon County community leaders, met for the first time early September 2018 in order to put together a strategy for the following 18 months. It was decided they would meet every other month with some consultants to make a plan for when it is approved in 2020.
As a community, it is crucial to support each other and help those around us grow. A Children’s Services Council gives us the opportunity to do just that. Although this is definitely something that should’ve been done sooner, it’s never too late to get the ball rolling. The proof is in the numbers and this is a problem that needs a solution right away. This CSC would be that much needed solution we have been looking for.