Florida International University

MIAMI — A 10-year project intended to enhance the lives of Liberty City’s young people has passed a key Miami-Dade County Commission committee vote, but was deferred at the full board of county commissioners meeting on Tuesday, April 20.
The Miami Children’s Initiative, a wide-ranging program intended to bring Liberty City kindergarten-to-college educational, developmental and health care programs to the underserved area, was approved by the county Housing and Community Development Committee last month.

Irene Taylor Wooten, a special assistant for social services in Miami-Dade County Manager George Burgess’ office, was not available to explain the deferral. But her assistant, Sonia Grice, said the delay was probably minor, and that the plan would likely be taken up next month.

The program is modeled after the successful Harlem Children’s Zone in New York. That program serves more than 17, 000, providing them, as well as their parents, with developmental and educational programs from childbirth to adulthood.

The HCZ programs provide expectant parents, parents of toddlers, and children at all school levels, from pre-K to college.

One program, the nine-week “Baby College,” teaches parents of youngsters up to three years old effective discipline techniques, and encourages them to read to their children.

Elementary, middle, and high-school level children involved with the HCZ are enrolled in “Promise Academy” schools, offering longer school days and a longer school year.

Middle-school students receive free medical and dental care, healthy meals and an after-school program.

The “College Success Office” gets students involved in community-service projects, and places them into internships. HCZ brags that it has sent some 600 students to college, and that graduates starting school last fall garnered more than $6.3 million in scholarships.

The Florida Legislature enacted a measure two years ago authorizing creation of similar children’s initiatives throughout the state, and creating a process to identify neighborhoods in which they would be based. The legislation allocated $3.6 million to pay for the first three years of the Miami initiative.

The project will be based in the state Department of Children and Family Services, and managed by the Ounce of Prevention Fund of Florida, a 20-year-old Tallahassee-based public-private partnership that supports community-based programs for at-risk children and their families.