American Children’s Campaign is bringing together a new multipartisan coalition called TEAM FUTURE, chaired by Florida’s 17th Lt. Governor Jeff Kottkamp with Latino Leadership Executive Director Marucci Guzmán as Vice-Chair, to generate seamless, best practice-based policies that fix root causes, rather than symptoms, of challenges faced by Florida’s everyday children.
Kottkamp points to child welfare improvements such as best interest representation in dependency court, a child marriage ban, expungement of juvenile records and the recently passed Fatherhood Initiative as exceptionally good policy changes in recent years. “But more progress for more children is needed,” he said. “The welfare of our children should be our highest priority in Florida.”
The collaboration consists of citizen leaders, front-line executives of child-serving organizations, child advocates and retired social services professionals who will inform American Children Campaign’s public education campaigns and action agenda. In addition to Kottkamp and Guzmán, the initial TEAM FUTURE Leadership Council includes: Alan Abramowitz, CEO, The Arc of Florida; Vicky Basra, President/CEO, Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center; Dr. Brook Bello, Ph.D., CEO and Founder, More Too Life; Chris Card, retired social services executive; Dr. Frank Catalanotto, Founder, Floridians for Dental Access; Patricia Hogan, RN, LMHC, mental health advocate; Shelley Katz, COO, Victor Community Support Services; Kurt Kelly, President/CEO, Florida Coalition for Children; Michelle Kindy, retired social services executive; Stephen Robert, Executive Vice President, One More Child; John Robertson, Director of Membership Services, Florida Network of Youth and Family Services; Connie Siskowski, President and Founder, American Association of Caregiving Youth; and Cathy Timuta, MBA, CEO, The Florida Association of Healthy Start Coalitions.
Abramowitz and Katz will serve as liaisons to the American Children’s Campaign governance board, chaired by national NAACP leader Leon Russell. The launch of the TEAM FUTURE Leadership Council is phase one of its development and more organizations and private citizens will be joining. Local hubs will form in target areas in the coming months as well.
“In a big tent environment where all views are welcomed, we will find common sense and cutting-edge solutions benefiting children” said Roy Miller, president of American Children’s Campaign. “We will not succumb to divisiveness, scripted echo chambers or silo mentality that’s pervasive in the policy arena as it exists today.”
TEAM FUTURE Vice-Chair Marucci Guzmán believes children of color who historically have not received equitable access to resources and treatment are especially vulnerable. “There exists an over-representation of minorities in foster care placements, school suspensions and school-based arrests,” she explained. “The COVID-19 pandemic magnified system inequities tied to income and ethnicity.”
Significant Numbers of Florida Families are Struggling
In addition to state policy, TEAM FUTURE will address gaps in federal policy when needed. For example, the expiration of the pre-tax child tax credit at the end of 2021 is already hitting Florida families hard. According to Census Household Pulse Survey data (week ending March 14, 2022) 40 percent of Florida households report it is somewhat or very difficult to pay usual household expenses in the last seven days. That figure is up from just 27 percent from December 13, 2021. Other signs of struggle include:
- About 13% of Florida adult homeowners and 43% of renters report it is very likely or somewhat likely they will be facing foreclosure or eviction in the next two months.
- Twelve percent of Florida households report they do not have private or public health insurance.
- Nearly one in five Florida households with children (17%) report they often or sometimes don’t have enough food to eat. Another 28% say they don’t have enough food that they want to eat.
New Solutions Needed for Long-Standing Challenges
- More access to mental health services: We must stop the revolving door approach to mental health. Too few services are available in communities, utilized constantly by too few individuals. Baker Acts are overused with devastating results even on young children.
- Reliable, quality, affordable child care is out of reach for many families: Nearly 3 million women have left the workforce nationwide due to child care issues. Parents are afraid of losing their jobs or they can’t look for work without reliable, affordable child care.
- Florida is reckoning with a maternal health crisis, with stark racial disparities: Florida ranks 47th out of 50 states in the number of uninsured women 19-44 – 20% of women. Black mothers in Florida are 2-3 times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than White mothers.
- Florida’s child welfare system needs consistency: To avoid system pendulum swings between family preservation and child removals, more oversight, accountability and transparency are needed to safely care for more than 22,000 Florida children in out-of-home care.
- Shocking numbers of children are commercially sexually exploited. Florida is a hotspot for child sex trafficking, ranking 3rd in the nation for reports of trafficking. Both boys and girls are trafficked in every Florida county.
- More juvenile justice reforms needed: Although arrests have declined, civil citations should be issued consistently to eliminate unjust geographical differences in youth arrest rates. More community services can ease law enforcement’s frustrations with recidivism and/or involvement with overburdened child welfare systems. Research also shows continued over-representation of children by race at every level of the system.
- Lack of access to medical and dental care: Florida leads the nation in the number of individuals living in areas where there is a lack of dental care, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration. In Florida, one in four residents – 5.46 million Floridians – live in areas lacking dentists. Twelve percent of Florida households report they have no public or private health insurance.
- Children as caregivers: Three million children nationwide are sacrificing their education and childhoods to care for aging, sick or disabled family members, many with little support.
For more information about TEAM FUTURE, or to get involved click here