Florida's Children's Week - a special annual celebration filled with joyful singing voices of young children, the colorful "Hanging of Hands", and the dedication of thousands of child advocates across Florida, captures the true spirit and commitment Florida has made to our children and youth. This special event and “Labor of Love” by so many of the organizers and volunteers has been a long journey that officially began in 1995 during the tenure of Governor Lawton Chiles.
The precursor for Children's Week was “Children's Day”, spearheaded by the Florida Children's Forum that became law in 1983. To bring more attention and build a broader base of support, the Children's Forum invited the State Coordinating Council for Early Childhood Services, primarily focused on early education, to join with the Children's Forum in coordinating the statewide activities in 1996. Other organizations that held activities recognizing children's issues also agreed to collaborate and schedule activities during the same week to strengthen the focus and impact for children. Later, however, the State Coordinating Council was subsequently removed from the statute and a Children's Week committee was formed to plan and coordinate activities. In 2002, “Children's Day” was changed in statute to “Parents and Children's Day” under the leadership of Rep. Loranne Ausley recognizing the contributions of families in supporting their healthy growth and development.
To its great credit, the Florida's Children's Forum initiated the signature, "Hanging of the Hands" tradition at the Capitol beginning in 1986 thanks to the efforts of the child care central agencies. The goal for the “Hanging of the Hands” was to provide a visual and powerful statement that every set of hands represented a child who was impacted by the policy decisions of the legislature. That goal remains the same today. The Forum could have maintained its primary role organizing the "hands", but they graciously relinquished it to support the broader Children's Week effort in 2005. This was key to the success of Children's Week and a great tribute to the Forum's vision and collaborative spirit.
There were many challenges along the journey, and many people thought Children’s Week was over. In 2005, Children’s Week attendance was at an all-time low, and coupled with the loss of grant funding for the logistical coordination of Children’s Week, the future of the event was in question. To save and expand the Children's Week concept beyond the focus on early childhood education and development, Jason Zaborske and United Way of Florida stepped up to facilitate a collaborative process that has been very successful in recent years.
Capital Events (CE) President Jason Zaborske brought a passion and a vision to Children's Week. Jason and United Way of Florida President Ted Granger focused on strengthening existing sponsor relationships, and expanding the event at the State Capitol into a full week of advocacy events and activities. Beginning in 2005 they added a networking dinner, and redesigned the sponsorship package to entice new sponsors and keep Children's Week going. In 2006, CE and UWOF coordinated and hosted the Florida Children’s Summit on children's issues, and secured Comcast as a new statewide media partner for Children's Week. Comcast began to host live televised interviews of policy makers and advocates in the State Capitol Courtyard. Focusing on gaining "partners" rather than "sponsors", Children’s Week grew attendance to more than 1,000 at the State Capitol, and boasted more than 20 statewide partners hosting information booths at the State Capitol. Before long, Children's Week was beginning to turn heads and attract the attention of statewide leaders. Employing the efforts of partners to host new events and activities for children, and enlisting volunteers statewide to organize more than a half dozen committees to organize these new activities, Children's Week underwent a major transformation from just a small press conference and "Hanging of the Hands” ceremony at the State Capitol, to a full blown advocacy event in 2007. Partners and volunteers were empowered to grow Children's Week, and the event doubled their sponsorships and attendance again in 2008. Children’s Week added a free luncheon for children, guided tours, and built partnerships with the Tallahassee Democrat and ClearChannel and major media outlets to begin widespread statewide promotions and advertising, which brought in more partners, volunteers, attendees and local event coordinators from 2008 to 2012.
Now in their 10th year of coordinating Children's Week together, CE and UWOF are proud to have increased Children's Week's attendance and partnership with more than 100 paid partners, including hundreds of volunteers and organizations at the local level who make Children's Week the largest event hosted at Florida's State Capitol, with more than 5,000 attendees.
Children's Week events now include a free breakfast and lunch for all attendees, and free books and pedometers provided to local coordinators and participants. The annual dinner and networking event, has been sold out the last six years, with more than 350 attendees. Children's Week has developed and assists with organizing over 100 community events and activities each year, providing thousands of parents, children, policy makers, professionals, community leaders and concerned citizens with the opportunity to share valuable knowledge and information about children's issues in each community across the state and at the State Capitol.
Children's Week continues to provide a platform and bring together children's advocates to deliver the message that every child in Florida must be healthy, ready to learn, and able to achieve their full potential.