By Amy H. Haile
Executive Director

At any given moment, more than 2,400 children in Hillsborough County are living somewhere other than at home with their parents due to child abuse and neglect. That’s a staggering statistic – the highest of any county in Florida – and a huge part of the reason why Champions for Children exists. It’s why, for more than 40 years, we have delivered programs specifically crafted to build the positive reciprocal relationships that serve as a buffer against both the occurrence and the subsequent adverse effects of this trauma. It’s why we are committed to making sure that all of our services are rooted in the best science available and designed to promote factors known to protect against child abuse and neglect.

Still: we have a lot more work to do! And, as we begin the year 2020, I want to take a moment and share some thoughts with you about where we’ve been and where we are going in the coming year.

Throughout 2019, we strived to better position ourselves to serve families by launching initiatives to train all 140 of our employees in Mental Health First Aid and trauma sensitivity. We reduced families’ barriers to access by asking community members directly how to weave our services and supports into the fabric of their everyday lives. Just one example of what we’re doing with that valuable feedback can be found in the “Growing Up Great” partnership we are proud to lead in Town & Country, where we are now implementing services completely in Spanish. In an anonymous survey last year, we learned that 98% of our families felt they benefited from our services, and 98% likewise felt they were treated with dignity and respect throughout their participation with Champions. We know it is important for families to be empowered, and we are proud that our commitment to making them feel that way is reflected in their real life experiences.

Fast forward to this, the first full week of a brand new year! We are full of energy and excited about some powerful initiatives that we are planning to launch or grow in 2020. Although some are in too early stages to share (stay tuned!), I’m pleased to share a few highlights.

First, we are engaged in a concerted effort to bring our proven programs directly to underserved populations and communities who can benefit most but have perhaps faced barriers to accessing our services in the past. Sometimes barriers are geographic or linguistic, as in the case of the Town N Country project. Other times, families don’t have the time or means to travel to our existing sites, such as with the pregnant and parenting teens with whom we will be working with for our second year at select local high schools. This year will also mark the first full year that our abcProgram will be partnering with OneLove to provide post-partum doula serves to new moms with complex needs and/or medically fragile babies who need personalized, in-home extra support in the critical early days of parenthood.

Second, while we are tremendously proud of the work we do to serve families, it is also important for us to operate as a strong and sustainable organization. That’s why, since 2004, we have been one of the few organizations that voluntarily undergoes a national accreditation process to ensure that we are holding to the highest standards of excellence in all operating areas including: human resources, accounting, governance, fundraising and services. It is this commitment that has also earned us a Platinum Seal of Transparency from GuideStar. The Council on Accreditation requires that we maintain our accreditation by renewing it every four years. This year will mark our fifth time doing so, and each time reveals new ways we can improve our operations to even better support our work with families.

Finally, 2020 will see us diving head first into our Talk Read Sing Community Campaign. You may have heard about this exciting endeavor in October 2019 when we welcomed George Halvorson of the Three Key Years initiative and Kristen Aldrich of the Too Small to Fail Foundation (both key leaders in the national Talk Read Sing movement) to help us get Tampa Bay designated as the 27th official “Talk Read Sing” community in the nation, with Champions as the lead agency. Extensive research has demonstrated the importance of Talking, Reading, and Singing to children from the very first days of their lives for simultaneously preventing childhood trauma and promoting future success. This two-pronged initiative consists of an “air campaign” promoting the lessons of this research to diverse stakeholders throughout Tampa Bay, and a “ground campaign” training trusted messengers in our community to deliver these critical messages directly to families through existing community services.

Thank you for your support, your participation, and your friendship throughout 2019. I look forward to joining together with you for an even greater 2020!