By Jack Levine
Investing in Children
The Children’s Movement of Florida is a coalition of 325,000 Floridians dedicated to ensuring that children become the number-one priority of state lawmakers and decision-makers and that every child in Florida gets a full chance at the American dream.Jack Levine, special correspondent for GRAND Magazine, recently sat down for a heart-to-heart discussion with David Lawrence, Jr., the founder of The Children’s Movement of Florida. is an excerpt of that interview.
G What motivated you, after a 35-year career as a journalist, to become a full-time child advocate?
Former Florida Governor Lawton Chiles made me do it! Back in 1996, he asked me to serve for two years on the Governor’s Commission on Education and appointed me to chair one of the six task forces — the one on “school readiness.” What I learned from that experience was so important that I decided to “retire” and spend my energies on this important agenda on a full-time basis.
G What are the most important challenges facing children today?
Children need all the basics: The right blend of health and education, nurturing and love, and caring, knowledgeable parents. All children need those essential ingredients for a successful life.
G What motivated the creation of Children’s Movement of Florida?
A deep belief that every child needs to have a real chance to succeed in school and in life. The lessons of history tell us that a real “movement” is about everyone. The same principles my wife and I have used to raise our five children are the principles for everyone’s child. Meanwhile, it is a matter of priorities. For one example, we spend $2,383 for a pre-K slot but $51,000 to incarcerate a juvenile. Surely, we are a better people than this.
G When you seek support from public officials to “invest in children,” what do you mean?
We have plenty of research showing that a dollar invested wisely in the early learning years will have a return of at least seven dollars — money we won’t need to spend on police, prosecution, and prison, and in some cases a lifetime of failure and dependency.
G What initiatives of Children’s Movement show the greatest promise for success?
We focus on five areas, all of which can succeed: High-quality parent skill-building; high-quality mentoring programs; health insurance for all children; fixing the quality of Florida’s pre-K program; and affordable, accessible screening and treatment for all children who may have special needs. Each is vital; each is at the very foundation of what is genuinely “American.”
G How can Baby Boomers in their grandparenting years serve as advocates for all children?
If people ever realized the power they have within them — by voting, by mentoring, and in so many other ways — we would make all sorts of progress for the future of children. I find it literally frightening that three of every four children in our country cannot enter the American military because of an academic problem, a physical problem, a criminal-justice problem, or a substance-abuse problem. This is a matter of national security for a country we love.
I am a grandfather, too (of children ages 2 to 9), and hence, much blessed. Once a week I read to 4-year-olds as a mentor-volunteer in an early learning center. It is perhaps my most rewarding hour of the week. Our legacy will be what example we set and what difference we make in the lives of others. That’s the splendid opportunity for any grandparent, because all grandparents have the capacity, in so many ways, to teach.
Children’s Movement of Florida is a member of GRANDPartners for GRANDParents. For information on how your business or organization can become a GRANDPartner for GRANDParents, contact Christine Crosby.