Panama City, Fla. – Today, First Lady Casey DeSantis announced that counties in Northwest Florida still rebuilding from Hurricane Michael will be receiving an additional $5.2 million to support continuing efforts to expand telemental health services, rebuild early education facilities, and ensure Florida’s youngest learners and their families are ready and able to return to school and work.

In addition, throughout the pandemic Florida Early Learning Coalitions have successfully kept childcare and early learning programs open to serve Florida’s youngest learners, standing at a 98% open rate. Florida’s over 3,700 Early Learning Providers have maintained childcare and early learning support for more than 20,000 children of first responders, health care professionals and law enforcement since April. Florida’s early learning efforts have been the strongest in the nation, and these funds will expand on our efforts to support our youngest learners, and their families.

“The Governor and I have not and will not forget the ongoing needs of the good people of Northwest Florida who continue to work hard to rebuild their communities and their lives in the wake of Hurricane Michael,” said First Lady Casey DeSantis. “With this new funding, we are helping to ensure that our youngest children – who without a doubt have been impacted by the trauma their parents, siblings and neighbors have endured – get the support they need to recover and get back to school and normal lives.”

“Ensuring our youngest children get the services they need is critical to their long-term success in school and in life, and ensuring children have providers who can support those early years so parents can work is important to the well-being of Florida’s families and communities,” said Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran. “I am grateful to the Governor and First Lady DeSantis for continuing to prioritize the needs of all our students.”

In the two years since Hurricane Michael devastated the area, more than $832 million in state and federal funding has been directed toward rebuilding and expanding services to help citizens get back on their feet physically and emotionally. One of First Lady DeSantis’ first initiatives ensured telemental health portals were installed in every public school in the hardest-hit counties.

The latest funding, from the U.S. Health and Human Services’ Child Care Disaster Fund through an application submitted by the Florida Department of Education / Office of Early Learning in partnership with the Early Learning Coalition of Northwest Florida, will rebuild and enhance the region’s childcare and pre-school providers. In some areas of the region more than half of their childcare and preschool facilities were lost or severely damaged.

The Early Learning Coalition of Northwest Florida administers the School Readiness and Voluntary Prekindergarten Programs for Bay, Calhoun, Franklin, Gulf, Holmes, Jackson, and Washington counties. The grant will allow the ELCNWF to launch Operation Kaleidoscope, a project to address childcare infrastructure and mental health needs of young children linked to the devastation caused by Hurricane Michael which made landfall in the Florida Panhandle on October 10, 2018. Approximately $450,000 will be shared with counties neighboring the coalition’s region.

“Our area is still experiencing trauma from Hurricane Michael and our young children are especially vulnerable,” said Suzan Gage, Executive Director for the Early Learning Coalition of Northwest Florida. “Funding made available from this grant will help bring in programs and services to ensure that recovery continues. Together, with the help of state and local partners, we will ensure that our youngest children thrive despite the obstacles they are facing.”

The grant announced today will:

  • Provide mental health screening and evaluation services for children, families and providers along with equipment and training to deliver mental health services and trauma-informed care via telehealth, (without regard to insured status) to young children, their parents, and teachers as needed.
  • Increase childcare capacity while working to enhance business knowledge and mitigation strategies in preparation for future disasters.
  • Rebuild and resupply childcare facilities including indoor and outdoor environments, supplies, materials, furniture, and curricula.
  • Provide free developmental and behavioral screenings and connect families, via 2-1-1, with support and resources.



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