Our History – 40 Years of Innovation for Florida’s Children
Voices for Florida was originally chartered in 1976 as the Florida Center for Children & Youth, a nonprofit public policy organization under the IRS 501(c)(3) charitable code. Its formation was a project of the Junior Leagues of Florida, the National Council of Jewish Women, the League of Women Voters and the Florida PTA. Its Board of Directors quickly expanded to include other advocates and interests, including judges, civil rights attorneys, pediatricians, educators, and a range of civic business, faith and philanthropic sector leaders.
Focused on System Reform since 1976
The first organizational funding investment was secured through federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention funds for implementing the Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Act, bringing much needed reforms to Florida. Other early interest areas included child abuse intervention, runaway youth services and licensure of both early child care and residential foster care programs.
In 1979, the Center was one of seven state-based advocacy organizations awarded a three-year Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA) grant by the U.S. Department of Justice for comprehensive research and policy reports on children’s needs from pre-natal care to delinquency prevention.
Important System Changes and Interventions are Born
The Center launched its membership subscription outreach in 1981 to help fund its activities. This network achieved the creation of Florida’s Guardian ad Litem Program (1980) in two pilot judicial circuits to bring volunteers into the dependency courts as advocates for the best interests of abused, neglected and abandoned children.
In addition, the Center worked diligently to enforce sight and sound separation of youth incarcerated in adult jails after the publication of Juvenile Injustice: The Jailing of Children in Florida, a comprehensive assessment of the inappropriate placement of youth in Florida’s training school institutions.
The Center, in partnership with the University of South Florida, was among the first wave of Kids Count partners. Each year, media coverage of Florida Kids Count in news, features and editorials was recognized as the most comprehensive nationally.
In 1986, the Center took a leadership role in advocating an expansion of the Juvenile Welfare Board of Pinellas County model, first established in 1946, to create legislation allowing any county to create property tax-supported children’s services councils by referendum. Since then, Children’s Services Councils have been successfully created in seven counties, now representing about two-thirds of the population of Florida’s children.
In 1992, Vote Kids, the precursor of The Children’s Campaign in Tallahassee, developed a clear set of permissible, non-partisan communications strategies to bring a new level of attention to the cause of children and families during each bi-annual election cycle.
A Change in Name, But Not in Mission
In 1998, the operating name of the organization changed to Voices for Florida. Over the decades, Voices for Florida and its network members have helped envision and support a diversity of statewide program coalitions including: the Florida Network of Youth and Family Services (runaway and crisis youth), Healthy Start (health and education services for pregnant women), Ounce of Prevention Fund and Healthy Families (primary prevention of child abuse), Family Café (family-focused services for children with developmental challenges) and Early Steps (intervention for mitigation of early childhood delays).
The most recent advancement to be brought forward is Open Doors, a network to serve sexually exploited children and victims of sex trafficking.