2013 Community Focus Report Released at Children’s Summit

The 2013 Community Focus Report for Springfield-Greene County is now available to the public, following its release at a Children’s Summit hosted by the Junior League of Springfield today.

This is the sixth edition of the report, which began in 2004 and eventually went to a biennial schedule. It assesses the red flags and blue ribbons within 11 areas of the community, as well as synthesizing the themes among the 11 chapters and demographic information about the area. Many local organizations from government to philanthropy use the report as a tool to help determine funding and strategic priorities.

The report is available online at www.springfieldcommunityfocus.org. A limited number of hard copies are available by calling the CFO at (417) 864-6199. The report is sponsored by the Community Foundation of the Ozarks, the Junior League, the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce, the Springfield-Greene County Library District, and the United Way of the Ozarks.

A panel of speakers at the Children’s Summit, held at Drury University’s O’Reilly Family Events Center, tried to bring to life many of the report’s findings and themes as they relate to children, particularly early childhood development.

Moderated by CFO President Brian Fogle, the panel focused on high-priority issues such as the impact of living in poverty and our area’s unacceptably high rate of child abuse and neglect.

Community Focus coordinator Cristina Gilstrap addresses the blue ribbon and red flag themes outlined in the 2013 version of the Community Focus Report for Springfield-Greene County

Dana Carroll, working with the new Every Child Promise initiative to develop kindergarten-ready kids, pointed out that virtually every skill adults possess is rooted in brain development before age 5 – communication, problem solving, empathy, persistence, even moral development among others.

Greene County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Patterson described the impact of the child abuse and neglect that moves through the county legal system, calling the high abuse rate “chronic and stubborn.” Of the 4,000 calls in 2012, the rate of substantiation here is 1.5 times higher than Missouri as whole. Victims of child abuse are nine times more likely to engage in criminal behavior later in life, creating a substantial cost to society.

“Our county is a tipping point with the light being shed on this to address it in a more organized fashion,” he said.

Missy Riley, director of early childhood for Springfield Public Schools, pointed out that the more children who arrive unprepared for kindergarten, the less attention the prepared students will get from busy teachers. While parents tend to think of preparedness in terms of alphabet and numbers, teachers want kids who can follow directions, play with others, ask for assistance and show self-help skills like using the bathroom.

As educational demands have increased, kindergarten is now really the first year of school rather than a time to prepare for school, she said.

“I think we are still viewing early-childhood education as nice, but not necessary,” Riley said. “We’re not quite there yet with saying ‘where are we going to get this money’.”

Michelle Garand, deputy director for housing at the Community Partnership of the Ozarks, said Springfield Public Schools has about 400 kids in precarious or unstable housing situations. While the housing community has finally achieved its long goal of a centralized affordable housing center, there just isn’t enough housing stock to make safe, affordable housing available to those who need it.

That instability leads to family stress that can manifest itself in child abuse and neglect, teens leaving home without anywhere to go and other types of dysfunction.

“The number of families that are ‘working homeless’ is shocking,” she said.

State Sen. Bob Dixon acknowledged that the General  Assembly struggles with maintaining funding, even for core priorities like education. He said he’s worked to maintain the benevolent tax credit to encourage private philanthropy to fill gaps in services. He encouraged the Springfield community to continue its long track record of collaboration and focus on strategic investments in early childhood and education.

As each panelist offered a final takeaway, Garand urged the audience to “help where your heart is. Leave here with a strong sense of obligation to give where you can.”

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