Contained inside the $80.4 billion budget that the Florida Legislature approved last week was $3.3 million in additional funding for the Early Steps Program, money that Gov. Rick Scott had threatened to cut before the session began earlier this year.
Early Steps helps babies and toddlers with developmental disabilities or delays during their first three years. Experts say the younger the age when children are diagnosed and treated, the greater the chance of reducing the effects of a developmental disability or delay.
Speaking to reporters Monday morning at the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County, Tampa Bay area U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor publicly thanked Senate President Andy Gardiner for taking action to assure the funding.
“During the early discussion of the state budget, Governor Scott had proposed very severe cuts to Early Steps, and thankfully the Republican state Senate especially stepped up and provided the support to our families all across the state of Florida that will again allow children to be successful in school,” Castor said.
The Children’s Board Family Resource Center is managed by REACHUP and is one of six Family Resource Center locations in Hillsborough County. REACHUP (Respond, Educate, Advocate, Collaborate for Health in Underserved Populations) was recently awarded a Healthy Start federal grant for $1.67 million as of June 1, 2015, to continue its work on reducing infant mortality in the Central and East Tampa area while addressing the well-being and empowerment of mothers, fathers, families and entire communities. All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg similarly received a million-dollar-plus grant to do the same in downtown and south St. Pete.
“Support services really is important from the beginning to the end,” said Lo Berry, president and CEO of REACHUP. “We like to get involved prenatally, during the birth process, and post-partum. After they give birth we like to have support services to continue on with the education piece, and to focus on child development issues, to focus on self sufficiency, and focus on health and safety. And so having that support network there and a buddy, someone you can rely on and confide in to direct you, again to change that trajectory that we’re talking about.”
Last month researchers from Harvard University concluded that Hillsborough County is among the worst places in the country’s in terms of poor children’s ability to clime out of poverty. The study on upward mobility published in The New York Times said the county ranks 98th out of the nation’s biggest 100 counties in terms of potential earning power for low-income people. Every extra year spent in Hillsborough reduces a child’s earnings by 0.67 percent, the study found.
“The good news is REACHUP and Healthy start can target those dollars to the zip codes and neighborhoods that the help the most, and that’s what they do,” Castor said. Referring to that unenviable statistic on poverty, Castor said that made it all the more important for these organizations to continue to receive funding to do their work.
“That’s why initiatives like this are so important,” she said. “Because if children have a healthy start in life, they have a greater chance of being successful in life.”