Sean Boyle, the Executive Director of the Children's Services Council in St. Lucie County, was the featured speaker at Pennies for Community Progress (P4CP) an event held at the News-Press offices yesterday. from 3-5 p.m. on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Boulevard in Fort Myers. .The program was free to the public and well attended by community leaders and government officials.
"I want to speak to you today about the structure of a Children’s Services Council we've been using in my community. It is a great example of a program that works and you can see that by looking at what we've been able to accomplish to help our children," the affable Boyle told the Sun Bay.
There are currently eight Children's Services Councils in Florida. They were created by state statute to "focus on developing and improving existing children's programs." In addition, the Councils also implement programs for families. They are usually funded through a special taxing district, much like the libraries and fire control districts created in Lee County through voter referendums after approval from the county commission. Alternatively they can be funded by a county's general fund budget. In Lee County, P4CP - which is a movement to end poverty and violence in the community - is pursuing the independent taxing district model. To accomplish this they would use a county wide tax - up to a state-mandated cap of 50 cents per $1,000 of taxable value - to fund its' childhood development, learning and family services programs throughout the county.
"The uniqueness of the CSC model is that it’s local dollars to meet local needs. So while our needs in St Lucie are different from those here in Lee Co. the CSC is a model for a county to develop a local revenue source that is highly accountable to the community to meet Lee Counties unique local needs," said Boyle
Boyle is no stranger to success. One of his programs, the Easter Seals' Early Steps program became a critical resource for many parents in St. Lucie County.
The Early Steps program was developed to provide guidance, support and education to children with special developmental needs and their families. After a doctor determines a child is developmentally behind when they turn one year old, the child can be referred to Early Steps where they can receive access to physical, speech and occupational therapies funded by state and local matching funds from the Children's Services Council.
There are also federal funds that can be drawn upon to help work with families of children with developmental delays up to age 3. The program in Florida benefits more than 40,000 families annually..
The feedback from those helped by Boyle's work is uplifting and underscores just how important having a Children's Service Council can be to a community. The following was taken from the St. Lucie Council's website and is listed as one of their "success stories."
"I can write passionately about the Early Steps program because the child in this story is my son, Zane. Today, Zane has a diagnosis of muscular myopathy — a disease in which the muscle fibers do not function, resulting in muscle weakness. Because of the Early Steps program, their supportive staff, and ultimately the therapies provided, my son was able to largely catch up with his peers — and not slide further behind," said one parent on the site
"St. Lucie County is unique in the support it provides its newest residents. I can attest — my wife and I are forever grateful for the support provided to not only our son, but to our family," he added.
Early Steps is just one example of a program made possible by partnerships between federal and state organizations that can be facilitated by a viable, funded Children’s Services Council in Lee County.
"A community committing to its' children and families by developing a CSC has effects that not only benefit and help the children that will be served but also everyone in the community, " said Boyle