A dream for Florida’s children … forever

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

A dream for Florida’s children … forever

Nov. 3, 2006    News media contact:  Tita Parham*    
tparham@flumc.org     Orlando {0568}

An e-Review Commentary
By Pamela S. Davis**

During the first-ever Children's Summit in Orlando Pamela Davis thanks Jason Zaborske, the Children's Week statewide coordinator, for his ongoing support. Photo courtesy of Pamela Davis, Photo #06-457.

The 2006 Florida Children’s Summit Oct. 6 was a dream come true. More than 1,000 advocacy-minded participants came together with a passion to network and learn about the critical concerns of our children through conversations, focus groups and dynamic speeches.

A group of United Methodists from the Florida Conference were part of that gathering, but all United Methodists in the conference have a part to play in making the dream of helping our children grow to be healthy and happy a reality. 
The dream for the summit was created last April during Children’s Week 2006 by statewide leaders, including members of the Florida Conference’s task force on the Council of Bishops’ Initiative on Children and Poverty (BICAP) and United Methodist Women, ecumenical leaders, child advocates, concerned legislators and individuals with a vision to identify the needs of children. Together we brainstormed how we could be more effective at the 2007 Children’s Week in Tallahassee. This historic event is just the beginning of a strong relationship that brought together statewide leaders, advocates and elected officials from across the state to discuss important issues facing Florida’s children and families.

We know about the federal No Child Left Behind initiative, yet we know many of Florida’s children are still behind in counties across the state. At the summit we began dreaming of children who would receive proper health care, nutrition and a quality education to enable them to grow as children of God.

We wanted No Advocate Left Behind, so at this first-ever Children’s Summit, keynote speakers and targeted groups addressed issues and shared successes in other states and communities. There were representatives of children, from birth through university-aged students, who serve as caregivers, educators, legislators or advocates. We highlighted the issues of Florida’s children. Then, we agreed to prioritize and focus on critical needs so we could make a significant impact.

Together we created shared visions for the state of Florida with a strong, ongoing commitment to its children and families. Moved by a meaningful, full agenda, we involved leaders from the Florida House and Senate. Further, we launched a long-term process, a matrix, to develop and implement strategies for moving a shared vision forward in 2007 and beyond. This included specific legislative policy recommendations regarding children's issues.

Elected officials who participated included Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jim Davis, incoming Florida Senate President Ken Pruitt, Florida House Speaker Designate Marco Rubio, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, Nashville Mayor Bill Purcell (Nashville) and other Florida legislators.

Pamela Davis' students pose to say goodbye as she leaves to attend the Children's Summit in Orlando and advocate for their rights and the rights of children across the state. Photo by Pamela Davis, Photo #06-458.

One of the messages we heard over and over again from leaders and participants is now is the time to make a change. Some of the things I learned about the treatment of children in our state bear this out:
   n 600,000 children have no health insurance. 
   n There are kindergartners whose permanent teeth have decayed and are in need of dentures.
   n Our Universal Pre-K program is very effective, with 206,000 4-year-olds in the first year of the program, but we need to have higher standards for those staffing the program, with credentials in early childhood certification, and a high quality curriculum. 
   n We need to lengthen our school day to better serve the educational needs of our students and help working parents with child-care needs.
   n FCAT testing and the use of the data is a major concern. Instead of a tool to punish students or schools, the assessment should tell educators and parents the learning issues affecting students so they can then provide before, after and summer schools to fix the concerns and see our students succeed.  
   n There are 66,000 fourth-graders who can’t meet the standards to be proficient in reading. 
   n We spent $2 billion to re-teach standards in math.

One area the Florida Conference can emphasize is a focus on success for any aged child. When children in our church are baptized our commitment doesn’t end with the Amen after the baptism. We must help parents in their efforts to help their children fully develop and become the Christians God intended them to be. Just like the shepherd, we must look for every lost sheep and see that no child slips through the cracks. That is our responsibility as United Methodists.

The United Methodist Church through BICAP and United Methodist Women through its Campaign for Children goals support many programs and dreams for children, including providing life skills for youth and parents and before- and after-school programs with developmentally-appropriate care, encouraging neighborhood and community centers to provide school break and summer activities, declaring health care as a right for every child, creating and supporting grandparents who frequently care for our children, developing mentors and many others. The conference also supports mission programs that involve children, including Christians Reaching Out to Society (CROS), Tampa United Methodist Centers (TUMC) and Wesley House. 

Our church has the capability of strategically planning and utilizing the talents of our diverse members to develop and expand programs and services. Some churches are already providing programs and events and have preschools and educational opportunities for children and their families. We can declare before the Florida Annual Conference the health care rights of children

As United Methodists we can proactively see that the children in our families, neighborhoods, congregations and community get the services they need to succeed, so their dreams can become a reality, forever. We need to be there for children as mentors, as churches adopting schools, as concerned Christians who can say as Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me,” and continue asking the children to come, forever.

Participants at the Children's Summit network on issues. Photo by Pamela Davis, Photo #06-459.

Every United Methodist can begin by praying and dreaming, then listening and talking to others about children and with children. If our children could talk with our elected officials, they would say they need our help. They would want us to put monies in our budgets, not cuts for their future. Every piece of legislation should be judged based on how it impacts the future of children and the needs of all people.

The solutions are not in Washington or Tallahassee, but rooted in our church through programs and actions. So let’s get dreaming, forever, that the Kingdom will come for all God’s children.

Florida United Methodists have an opportunity to join Florida Conference Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker March 25-27 in Tallahassee for Children’s Week 2007. Participants will meet others to put voices and actions to the dream of helping the state’s children, as well as lobbying state legislators who can make that dream a reality by a single vote.

More information about Children’s Week events is available at http://www.childrensweek.org.


This article relates to Outreach and Church and Society.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Davis serves on the Florida Conference task force for the Council of Bishops’ Initiative on Children and Poverty and as the conference United Methodist Women as Mission Coordinator, Social Action. She is also an educator and advocate for children.

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