When it comes to the status of children in Florida, the statistics are grim indeed: 35th among states overall in child well-being, 36th in low birth weight babies, 29th in infant mortality, 27th in child deaths.
We are 43rd in teen school dropout, 25th in children living in poverty, 43rd in children in single parent families, 22nd in children in families where no parent has a full-time, year-round job and 34th in median family income where there is a child.
And that is only the tip of the iceberg that a 2009 study uncovered and reported in “The State of Florida’s Child.” The landmark report is a devastating description of how Florida has neglected – virtually abandoned – its obligation to care about these our smallest citizens and tomorrow’s adults.
The Children’s Trust of Miami-Dade County is an example of how communities can tackle those issues. Voters approved a referendum question in 1988 creating an agency focusing exclusively on children’s issues. It was not until 2002 that voters approved funding for what came to be called The Children’s Trust and it has been making inroads in the seemingly intractable problems facing children. But it has been clear that a statewide approach is needed if there is to be an effective response to what is clearly the crisis of our time.
Dave Lawrence Jr., founding chairman of the Trust, recently spearheaded an initiative known as The Children’s Movement of Florida, described in its mission statement as “a citizen-led, non-partisan movement to educate political, business and civic leaders – and all parents of the state – about the urgent need to make the well-being and education of our infants, toddlers and all other children Florida's highest priority.”
One key aim evidently is to pressure lawmakers to accept that goal not just as a matter of doing right but also for the sake of Florida’s future. An early test of its influence is whether it can force a debate between the two gubernatorial candidates dealing only with children. A series of 17 rallies, called “Milky Parties,” is underway and the latest will take place at Broward College’s Bailey Concert Hall on Tuesday.
The rallies should be welcomed here and elsewhere in the state as a show of support for the men and women who have committed themselves to improving the life outcomes of the littlest among us, in the best altruistic tradition of pursuing a goal when the beneficiaries are in no position to grant favors.