Manatee County commissioners debate help for youth

skennedy@bradenton.comJanuary 21, 2014 

MANATEE -- Faced with more homeless children, rising teen pregnancy rates and erosion of support for youngsters in some families, Manatee County commissioners Tuesday reviewed how money is being spent locally to combat such social ills.

About 1,911 school-aged children are homeless in Manatee County, live births to teens jumped 12.6 percent from 126 in 2011 to 142 in 2012, and only 49 percent of third-graders read at grade level, according to a report by the Manatee County Childrens Services Advisory Board.

The commission work session focused on how an estimated $7.1 million the county plans to earmark for childrens' services may be best spent next fiscal year.

"There needs to be some kind of holistic approach," said Commissioner Michael Gallen during a review of programs offered through nonprofit agencies and overseen by county officials and advisory board members.

Commissioner suggestions included requiring parenting classes, more funding for pre-kindergarten preparation for children from poor families and more coordination with the Manatee County School Board.

Many third-graders are not able to read as well as they should, and some of those in higher grades have fallen behind as well, said Jennifer Radebach, chairwoman of the advisory board.

About 700 students are truant each week as well, she noted, adding, "Where do you start to tackle it?"

Commissioner John Chappie suggested beefing up early learning programs for pre-schoolers and counseling for stressed and broken families.

Radebach said the county already finances family classes, suggesting perhaps it's time to require parenting programs of some clients.

Commissioner Robin DiSabatino called the advisory board's report "eye-opening and depressing at the same time," and thought a "big meeting" with school board members might help.

That thought was seconded by Commission Chairman Larry Bustle, who said the commission and the school board may be more effective by working together.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter@sarawrites.

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