Community plan for children and youth to be part of County Commission’s retreat discussion in December

Commissioner Christine Robinson wins consensus for that step, voicing hope that the plan will become a board priority

Commissioner Christine Robinson. File photo
Commissioner Christine Robinson. File photo

Outgoing Sarasota County Commissioner Christine Robinson has won consensus of the remaining board members that they — and their new colleagues — will consider whether to make a community plan for children and youth a future county priority.

The topic will be on the agenda for the commission’s annual retreat, which will be held on Dec. 9 at a location yet to be determined.

As a participant during an Economic Development Corp. visit to Charleston, S.C., Robinson explained on Nov. 8, she listened to discussion about how “getting all the fish swimming in the right direction” can save money by preventing duplication of services.

Furthermore, she said of the county’s younger residents, “This is a constituency that doesn’t get to get here that often to talk to us, so we have to advocate for them.”

Former County Commissioner Shannon Staub preceded Robinson on Nov. 8 in making a similar plea. Speaking as chair of the Positive Youth Development Council, Staub explained that that organization’s “overarching goal … has been to get a community plan for children and youth in progress, developed and implemented.”
The council was organized in 2010, Staub added; she joined it in 2011. It comprises 15 executives of organizations in the county that have programs and services for youth, she noted.

Having talked with mayors of the county’s municipalities, members of manufacturing associations, representatives of the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce and the Sarasota County School Board, she added, the responses she has heard is that the proposal for the community plan is “valuable and … timely.”

In advance of the School Board’s Oct. 18 discussion, a report provided by the Positive Youth Development Council pointed out that one in six high school students has “created a plan to commit suicide in the past year”; 30 youth are removed from their homes each month because of parental substance abuse or other forms of neglect; “30% of students re not reading on grade level by grade 3”; and 900 school-age youth are homeless.

The Positive Youth Development Council members represent these organizations. Image courtesy Sarasota County Schools
The Positive Youth Development Council members represent these organizations. Image courtesy Sarasota County Schools

Moreover, the document says, “Children spend only a fraction of their time with family compared to a decade ago, leaving parents less time to accomplish an even more daunting task.” It adds, “Supporting families and their children through the first two decades of life helps ensure that youth become valuable resources to the community and its workforce rather than a drain on resources through [high-cost] social programs and lost earning power.”

Shannon Staub. Contributed photo
Shannon Staub. Contributed photo

The program will enable community leaders to find out “what we are doing right,” learn about activities of all the relevant organizations and “act as a catalyst” to help with budgeting and resources, Staub pointed out to the County Commission.

SCOPE (Sarasota County Openly Plans for Excellence) already has been touted as the “backbone” for the implementation of the plan, she added.

SCOPE’s mission is “to connect and inspire citizens to create a better community,” its website notes. The organization’s executive director is John McCarthy, who took the position after his retirement from 30 years of county employment, mostly in Parks and Recreation Department leadership roles.

The background agenda packet for the Nov. 8 session included a detailed outline SCOPE has proposed for a Community Plan for Children and Youth. Robinson told her colleagues she understood they would be addressing an agenda item about the plan in December.

If the initiative wins board support next month, SCOPE’s initial step will be to organize a Leadership Committee likely comprising civic leaders from the county and its municipalities; representatives of the Sarasota County School District, Positive Youth Development, business and manufacturing groups, and families; and young people, the Nov. 8 outline says. Then, it would “engage and assign a project manager” to work with that group to research best practices in other communities as a guide to developing a proposal for Sarasota County. That effort is anticipated to take two years, the outline notes.

Then SCOPE would need “to inventory existing services/programs and to identify gaps and overlaps in the community,” the outline says.

Ultimately, the strategies that evolve from the entire process “may involve opportunities for closer partnerships, new collaborations, technological innovations and entirely new interventions,” the outline adds.

The Positive Youth Development Council provided this sample 'dashboard' for the School Board's consideration of creating a community plan. Image courtesy Sarasota County Schools
The Positive Youth Development Council provided this sample ‘dashboard’ for the School Board’s consideration of creating a community plan. Image courtesy Sarasota County Schools

“I wish I had been able to vote on it,” Robinson added of the SCOPE proposal. Nonetheless, she told her colleagues, “I want to do what I can to, at best, get it going.”

“I agree wholeheartedly with Commissioner Robinson,” Commissioner Carolyn Mason responded on Nov. 8. “It’s never been done before, and I think it has to be done at this point.”
Mason and Robinson both are leaving the County Commission this month as a result of term limits.

Robinson said she also understood that the potential exists for private funding in the community for the undertaking.

With no board member voicing an objection, Chair Alan Maio told her, “You have your consensus.”