From District 2 Orange County Commissioner Rod Love
This week at the Board meeting of the Orange County Board of County Commissioners, the Board engaged in a Work Session to address children’s issues. As you may recall from last week’s column, I encouraged citizen support for the establishment of Community Empowerment Zones (CEZ) for blighted communities riffled with high juvenile arrests, low performing schools, high incidents of behavioral referrals, high child welfare placements into foster care placements, early learning enrollment of low income families, and an array of undiagnosed children’s services needs. In addition, I had implored community and faith leaders as well as all community stakeholders to attend the Work Session to exercise your right to speak in favor of the establishment of CEZ during public comment. I would like to express my sincere gratitude and appreciation to all of those who came out to speak on the importance of CEZ, where without you, we would not have made the important progress we had made at the Board meeting this week. Thank you to Mr. Allie Braswell (also on behalf of Ms. Sandra Fatmi, United Foundation of Central Florida and Future Leaders United (FLU) at Evans High School), Mr. Tony Jackson, Mr. Johnny Alderman from the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, Ms. Kathy Booker, Ms. Tammie Holt with Strengthening our Sons, Mr. Dennis Hall, and Mr. Wayne Golding.
During public comment, speakers gave thorough, articulate and heartfelt testimony educating the Board on how allocating funding to children’s services in CEZ’s could help children and their families meet their needs.
“With the community empowerment, we [Florida Department of Juvenile Justice] are in full support of that,” said Mr. Johnny Alderman, Chief Probation Officer in Orange and Osceola Counties for the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice. “This community could benefit from those [children’s] services. We know as experts in dealing with the area of youth and families who have crossed over into the delinquency system that these resources are important to these families.”
Mr. Alderman offered to work with and maintain the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice’s relationship with Orange County to ensure that youth are receiving the services that they need and are staying out of the delinquency system.
At the time of the Work Session, the Board heard a presentation from Mr. Keith Carr with Forefront Consulting, LLC on the findings of his firm’s analysis (as requested previously by the Board) Children’s Services Councils operating in Florida and to provide feedback and feasible options to the Board regarding how additional funding could be utilized to address the level of service gaps for children, and what additional processes the County should consider implementing in the allocation of the $20 million allocated by Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs. In addition, Mr. Carr was also joined in his presentation by Dr. Randy Nelson from Bethune Cookman University, who is a Senior Consultant with Forefront Consulting. Based on their findings, Forefront Consulting recommends that the Commissioner should focus on allocating the $20 million to the following areas of critical community needs: Juvenile prevention/diversion; mental and physical health; early childhood education and care; child and student homelessness; and system-wide process and data management improvement. Additionally, on a more macro and community-based level, 7 zip codes were identified to have high incident rates: 32808; 32818; 32805; 32810; 32839; 32801; 32811. Two additional zip codes were also included due to findings of teen pregnancy and graduation rates: 32822 and 32703.
In moving forward in providing assistance to these areas of critical need, Forefront offered the following options to the Board to consider in determining how to allocate the additional funding:
- Operational Process Improvements:
-Use evidence-based practices for newly funded children’s services/programs
-Establish common outcomes for County funded children’s services/programs to determine the effectiveness
- Data Management Improvements: Implement common data and information sharing platform that creates the opportunity to enhance greater integration, interoperability and client engagement across programs
- Community Input: Conduct a series of community-level focus groups and interviews utilizing the County’s Neighborhood Centers for Families (NCF) with stakeholders to gather community input concerning children’s services needs in their neighborhoods to capture information that cannot be found in the data
In offering options and recommendations for the Board to consider in allocating funding, Forefront did find CEZ to have great potential and has proven to be successful in other communities (i.e., Harlem Children Zone, and Promise Neighborhoods) where the CEZ areas had defined neighborhood boundaries. Thus, Forefront recommended that Orange County consider the implementation of a similar approach utilizing zip codes and/or historically defined neighborhood or other methodology.
For the full presentation of the Work Session, residents can go to http://netapps.ocfl.net/Mod/meetings/1.
Following the conclusion of the presentation and some discussion from the Board, the Board voted to approve Forefront’s report. I would like to thank Mayor Jacobs for her leadership and courage in opening the door for this discussion as well as my fellow commissioners for their input. I truly believe that this is a critical step in the right direction in ensuring that children and families, as well as communities, are receiving the services that they need.