Institute for At-Risk Infants, Children, and Youth and Their Families

The Institute for At-Risk Infants, Children & Youth, and Their Families was created by the Florida Legislature in 1989. The legislatively established mission of the Institute is to conduct research, develop policy, provide training, and offer technical assistance and educational strategies that focus on at-risk children and their families in all settings. The allocation for the Institute in the initial year was $250,000, and the initial activity was the conduct of a regional conference providing up-to-date research and evaluation information about issues related to at-risk populations for the members of the Southern Legislative Conference. In 1990, $350,000 was added to the allocation to continue carrying out the mission of the Institute, primarily enhancing service to at-risk children and their families.

The goals of the Institute are to:

  • Assist legislators and other educational decision-makers by providing practical, timely, and objective analyses of current initiatives, projected needs, programmatic alternatives, and coordinated efforts that will assist in evaluating, planning, analyzing, and formulating decisions related to all at-risk populations and their families;
  • Develop knowledge, research, and databases related to all at-risk populations and their families, including but not limited to, youthful offender populations, youth in the juvenile justice system and children in the dependency system;
  • Provide technical assistance and consultative services for implementing related research findings by collecting social and educational data and disseminating information;
  • Develop and implement personnel training curricula to enhance professionals’ ability to meet the needs of at-risk populations and their families;
  • Analyze policy and policy environments; evaluate practices and reforms; facilitate discussion of issues.

The first director of the Institute was Dr. Carolyn Lavely, who led the Institute for many years until she retired in 2004 after twenty years of service. Dr. Neal Berger, who served as a deputy director from 1985 until 2004, when became the director of the Institute until he passed away in October 2005. Dr. Lavely returned to served briefly until Mr. Walter Chason was appointed as the acting director early in 2006. Dr. JoEllen Carlson was appointed as the director of the Institute in October 2006.

In 1995-96, the Institute was awarded a contract from Clemson University’s National Dropout Prevention Center to conduct a national dropout prevention conference and publish its proceedings. Then in 1996, USF President Betty Castor approached Dr. Lavely about creating a university-based charter school. In 1997, Institute’s staff carried out research, networked with national experts, and visited charter schools in other states, sponsored the first statewide charter school conference, and applied to establish the USF Charter School. The school opened in the fall of 1998 and was the first charter school operated by a public university in the country. The USF Charter School was renamed the Patel USF Charter School and moved from its original location at the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) to a facility on campus next to Pizzo Elementary.

The Institute’s team wanted the charter school to serve the neighborhood adjacent to the university characterized by apartment housing, highly transient families, single-parent families, low socioeconomic status, and high unemployment rates. They visited many sites to find a location suitable to house a school, attended county zoning meetings, and hired the personnel for the school. The team also canvassed the neighborhoods, going door-to-door recruiting parents and students to attend the charter school. The Institute’s staff was also involved in every aspect of designing, implementing, and operating the school, which even included serving meals to the children during the first week of school.

While collaborating with Florida State University, the Institute conducted a major study on the conditions of children in Florida, which resulted in a set of social indicators of the quality of life for the state’s children. The Institute also conducted the Florida Childcare Study, a four-year longitudinal study of the impact of statutory and regulatory changes in Florida designed to improve the availability and quality of child care.

The Institute has conducted research and written briefing papers for the Florida Attorney General and, working with more than 30 national professional organizations, developed and published guidelines for teachers to assist the development and learning of at-risk students. It conducted statewide evaluations for federally funded Parent Involvement Resource Center grants, child care services in Florida, Florida’s Full Service Schools, a pre-kindergarten program for the children of migrant laborers, and a regional literacy program. The Institute also developed state policy relating to the statewide teen pregnancy program; managed and evaluated programs for children who are homeless; conducted strategic planning for integrating service delivery to at-risk, handicapped, developmentally disabled, and pregnant and parenting teens; conducted research and reported on client satisfaction with public and private services of the Florida Rehabilitative Advisory Council; and developed, scored, and reported the results of a professional certification examination for juvenile justice detention care workers. More recent Institute projects include a U.S. Department of Education Transition-to-Teaching grant, the Tampa Bay Area Leadership Consortium (a U.S. Congressional line item), and Project Success, all of which continue today.

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