BY DAVID LAWRENCE JR., KENNETH C. HOFFMAN AND JAMES R. HAJ
Twenty years ago, a group of prominent community leaders made a promise that stands apart for its effectiveness, results and impact.
In September 2002, Miami-Dade County voters responded by approving a referendum creating The Children's Trust, a community-funded entity accountable for investing, supporting and advocating for children and families throughout the county.
In 2008, voters overwhelmingly reauthorized The Children's Trust to continue its essential work. With this mandate in hand, the Trust's commitment to the community has taken root and blossomed, resulting in measurable and meaningful impacts through strategic investment in programs developed and funded using evidence-based research and data.
During its first 20 years, the Trust has engaged more than 2.2 million children and family members, enabling 41,000 full-time early-learning opportunities for children under 5 and more than 600,000 after-school and summer program opportunities for youth in grades K-12.
Building on a more than 300% increase in funded programs, The Children's Trust has achieved a long list of accomplishments to help children and families, from free monthly book mailings, complete with family reading guides, and activities that encourage early literacy to providing thousands of free parenting workshops across the county. In addition, the Trust has helped ensure that school-based health staff are in half of all Miami-Dade County Public Schools.
The services that The Children's Trust funds build a successful community. Communities thrive when government, citizens and businesses work together to support children to create a brighter future. There are many signs of progress.
The percentage of high school students graduating on time in Miami-Dade has increased from 56% to 90% since 2002. The birth rate for teen mothers has dropped by 75% in the past 20 years, and there has been a 31% decrease in violent teen deaths. Miami-Dade County's ranking on the Florida Child Well-Being Index also significantly improved, from 56th of 67 counties in 2017 (when first measured) to 22nd in 2022.
What the community leaders who worked hard to create The Children's Trust realized all those years ago — and what our community continues to endorse today — is the scientifically proven belief that our children's futures depend on a solid start. To be our best as a community, we must ensure children learn and thrive by age 5. The Trust's aptly named "Thrive by 5" program seeks to do just that, ensuring that children receive high-quality early learning during the most critical years of brain growth.
At the same time, The Trust is committed to investing in children's well-being throughout their entire growth cycle, from before birth to adulthood. Family and neighborhood supports, after-school and summer camp programming, and a broad range of health, nutrition, parenting and other programming mean that children and youth in Miami-Dade County, and their families, have the kind of care and resources they deserve.
We also know it takes a village to reverse the pandemic's impact on children's learning. Summer learning loss has long been a concern to us all but was exacerbated recently. The Trust partners with Miami-Dade County Public Schools as part of the Summer 305 initiative to bring teachers into Trust-funded summer camps to teach reading and math to combat the summer slide.
Healthy communities are built on solid foundations. The Children's Trust has laid that foundation one brick at a time through nearly 5,300 contracted programs, 14.6 million snacks and meals provided and 3.4 million children's books distributed.
The Children's Trust promised 20 years ago to do everything possible to help children achieve their full potential. We remain committed to delivering on that promise. We know well the significance of keeping our word. The future of our community depends upon it.
David Lawrence Jr. is founding board chair of The Children's Trust. Kenneth C. Hoffman is chair of the Trust's board of directors. James R. Haj is the Trust's president and CEO.