Child advocate Dick Batchelor, former Orange County Chair Linda Chapin, Orange County School Board Chair Bill Sublette and Belvin Perry, retired chief judge of Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit, announced the formation Thursday of a new, broad-spectrum organization to help Orange County children living in poverty.
Chaired by Batchelor, The Children’s Trust of Orange County is being set up to create and lead a community discussion around the community’s children and the shortfall of resources available to serve them.
“Despite a substantial investment from Orange County, our youth have tremendous unmet needs that require focused efforts and resources that are beyond what we can ask local governments to do,” Batchelor stated in a news release. “We need better coordination of existing programs and resources. We need to identify gaps in services so that we don’t allow kids to fall through the cracks, and we need resources to fill these gaps so that every child can reach his or her full potential.
The new organization, which begins with more than two dozen business, education, social service, health care, and public service leaders from Central Florida on board, declared that its challenge includes the fact that in the past five years, the rate of Orange County children living in poverty has increased to 26 percent – more than most other metropolitan areas in our state, including Tampa and Jacksonville; one in four children live below the poverty lin, and an estimated 7,000 students are homeless.
The group’s leaders also noted that the Early Learning Coalition indicates there are 2,700 children who do not have access to any childcare because their parents cannot afford it; at least 40 elementary schools do not have an after-school program, and mental health services funding for children in Orange County lag most counties in the state.
“I cannot imagine a more worthwhile investment for our community to make than our children,” stated Jacob Stuart, former president of the Central Florida Partnership, who is serving as co-chair of The Children’s Trust. “We have united to tackle some of our largest transportation and economic development needs, I am confident we will do the same to support the birth to career pipeline and ensure our children’s success.”
During her time as Orange County chair, Chapin established the Citizen’s Commission for Children, which currently oversees the county’s funding for youth and family services in Orange County.
“When we established the Children’s Commission in the 90s, we all lived in a simpler world. Today our young people face challenges that were virtually unknown then,” she recalled. “We must provide them with a firm foundation to learn and thrive while also protecting them from the dangers of drugs, gang violence, and human trafficking.”
The Children’s Trust is advocating for a model that seven other urban counties in Florida have adopted. State law allows the county to create an independent special district to coordinate existing programs, identify gaps, and provide additional dedicated funding for children’s services.