Children’s Services Councils: Valuable Partners for Philanthropy in Florida

Many Floridians may not know that Florida is the only state in the country that is home to some unique funding entities, known as Children’s Services Councils (CSCs), dedicated solely to investing in the well-being of children and families. Today voters in five Florida counties – Broward, Martin, Okeechobee, St. Lucie and Palm Beach – will be asked to reauthorize their county’s CSC.

There are eight independent CSCs in Florida. These CSCs have voter-approved taxing authority to ensure that a dedicated funding source is available to meet the specific needs of children and families living in their counties. People in the county pay a small portion of their property taxes toward their CSC. For an approximate average annual cost to the taxpayer of $25 to $80 (depending on the county), CSCs are able to support a wide range of charities and programs that play a vital role in the vibrancy of a community, such as the Boys & Girls Clubs, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Children’s Home Society and the United Way. CSCs’ top priority is to make sure children of all ages are healthy, safe and prepared to learn – a goal so critical to the future of our state.

Florida’s first independent CSC was created back in 1946, when voters in Pinellas County approved – by an 80-20 margin – the creation of the Juvenile Welfare Board of Pinellas County. The newest CSC – The Children’s Trust – was authorized by Miami-Dade County voters in 2002 and reauthorized by voters in 2008 – also by a huge margin: 86-14. There’s also the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County and the five CSCs up for reauthorization today in Broward, Martin, Okeechobee, St. Lucie and Palm Beach counties.

Because CSCs have such a laudable and laser-like focus on investing in programs that will provide the best outcomes for the children and families in their communities, they are invaluable partners for private philanthropy in their counties. In 2009, for example, the Children’s Services Council of Palm Beach County partnered with three private philanthropic organizations – the Community Foundation for Palm Beach and Martin Counties, Allegany Franciscan Ministries and Quantum Foundation – to create the Safety Net Challenge, which was an unprecedented collaborative effort to support nonprofits struggling to meet the surge in demand from families and individuals as the result of the economic crisis. Each funder contributed $250,000 – $1 million total – to kick-off the challenge and help address the pressing needs in the county for food, shelter, health care and child care.

This past summer, the Children’s Services Council of Broward County teamed up with the Community Foundation of Broward to fund a pilot project to deliver nutritious meals throughout Broward County using a new mobile delivery approach. The project ensured that up to 500 children from four neighborhoods would receive lunch and a snack five days a week over the summer – a time when childhood hunger typically worsens.

The examples go on and on. Time and time again you’ll see CSCs at the table with private philanthropy, and many other community partners, to leverage resources and knowledge for the sake of a county’s children. CSCs bring not only valuable financial resources but a deep knowledge and understanding of where the greatest needs are in a county and of what works to ensure that all children in the county can become responsible, productive adults. No other organizations provide the kind of umbrella for leadership, coordination and oversight of efforts focused on children that CSCs provide.

To be sure, the community funding from CSCs is vital. In Broward County, for example, more than $65 million in funding by over 100 agencies would be cut off in 2015, with no other discernible source of funding to replace it, if voters do not reauthorize the existence of the Children’s Services Council of Broward County. In Palm Beach County, more than $87 million in annual support for the county’s children is at risk.

If we were to lose any of Florida’s Children’s Services Councils, we’d lose a incredibly valuable, and irreplaceable, community partner.

UPDATE: On November 5, voters overwhelmingly approved reauthorization of the Children’s Services Councils in all five counties, with 85-86% of the vote in Okeechobee, St. Lucie and Palm Beach counties and 76-77% of the vote in Broward and Martin counties.

– David Biemesderfer, President & CEO, Florida Philanthropic Network

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