Every child in St. Lucie County can benefit from numerous resources – if parents know how to make use of the programs. It’s one of the biggest challenges the Children’s Services Council faces: educating moms and dads on what’s available to them.
For one such dad, Sean Boyle, working at the council opened his eyes to the many resources and programs available to everyone, regardless of their income.
And he made use of several programs to the benefit of his son, Zane. The Children’s Services Council funds a program that sends registered nurses to newborns’ homes within a week of hospital discharge.
The council also funds a program that send workers out to help parents assess their children’s developmental progress.
It was that program – the Brain program – that helped Boyle recognize the signs that Zane wasn’t quite meeting his developmental milestones.
Armed with a questionnaire, he went to Zane’s pediatrician, who confirmed the 18-month-old had delays. He would need physical, occupational and speech therapies three times a week. At $75 a pop, Boyle was looking at a therapy bill of nearly $700 a week.
“It felt like there was no hope,” Boyle said of those days following the pediatrician’s visit.
He turned to Early Steps – another program funded through the Children’s Services Council. Early Steps was able to secure state funding and get Zane the therapy he needed at no cost to the family.
With the therapy, Zane was ready for school. Now 17, Zane still faces some challenges but is able to manage, his dad said.
Now, Boyle serves as the executive director of the Children’s Services Council and strives to let other families know what help there is for them should they need it.
The Children’s Services Council was created with two votes in 1990 – one by the County Commission creating the ordinance, and one by the voters who approved a dedicated funding source through their property tax.
There are only eight such councils nationwide; all are in Florida.
Boyle said the council serves three customers – children and families, the programs, and the taxpayers.
“It’s not our funds; it’s the taxpayers’ money,” he said.
According to the council’s 2017 annual budget report, the agency spent $7.29 million on 50 programs. Those programs focus on five key areas: healthy babies; child abuse prevention and strong families; keeping kids in school; keeping kids of the streets; and keeping kids off drugs and away from risky behaviors.
Each program the council supports must meet certain benchmarks in order to receive reimbursed funding.
For instance, according to Boyle, after-school programs must show an improvement in children’s academics and that 90 percent of the children are not involved with the Department of Children and Families. And, the children can’t have more than three absences from school.
The programs must “provide the greatest impact to the community” and achieve the most good, Boyle said.
In the decades following the creation of the Children’s Services Council, the rate of teen pregnancies has dropped to below state average as has the rate of juvenile crime. Before the council, teen pregnancies were three times above the state average.
Residents asked, “Can we do better for our children?” Boyle said, adding that they believed they could do better and decided the Council was the route to go.
Members of the Children’s Services Council often go out into the community to speak to organizations, helping to spread the word on the various programs.
The council also has an app available in the Apple and Google Play stores, a printed directory, and a weekly radio show, all in an attempt to spread the word.
To further reach out to the community, the Children’s Services Council is hosting its annual Sounds of the Season concert at Sunrise Theatre Dec. 15. Approximately 100 children across five programs will perform the free concert.
While the concert is free, tickets are available to secure seats. Tickets can be picked up at the Children’s Services Council’s office in St. Lucie West, located at 546 NW University Blvd., Suite 201, and at the Sunrise Theatre box office. The groups performing include the Boys and Girls Club, the PACE Center for Girls, the YMCA, Future Generations after school program, and END It (Everybody’s Not Doing It).
Boyle recalled meeting one young gentleman who participated in the Future Generations after-school program who, at the behest of his mother, picked up three musical instruments. He ultimately performed at the Sunrise Theatre and expressed to Boyle his appreciation for the program.
Boyle said the boy told him that if not for the Future Generations program, he most likely would have ended up in a gang and either dead or in jail.
He later went through the police academy, Boyle said.
The Children’s Services Council provides funding for school nurses, too, and coordinates a program of reading mentors at schools.
“We reach a lot of children,” Boyle said, later adding, “I think of all the great things happening in the community.”
For more information about the Children’s Services Council, call 772-408-1100 or visit www.cscslc.org.