The Formation of the Children First Trust Fund

The Children First movement was born because state leaders saw a need to fund preventative programs for Alabama's youth, but saw no avenue in which to fund the needed programs.  Hundreds of child advocates, including judges, juvenile probation officers, childcare workers, doctors, foster parents, social workers, teachers, etc., were poised to assist in this monumental effort. In 1999, the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement was identified as a way to gain vital funding.  As a result, legislation was written and passed that appropriates almost 50% of the state's tobacco settlement dollars to the Children First Trust Fund - so named because of the VITAL role Children First played in the passage of the bill.  Each year, the funds from the Children First Trust Fund appropriation touch the lives of 250,000 children and 1.5 million families.  

CF has become the guardian of the Children First Trust Fund and makes sure it is appropriated properly each year.  It is also important to note that CF receives none of the Children First Trust Fund dollars. 

Successful Passage of Amendment One

Alabama law mandates that the state pass a balanced budget each year.  With the economic challenges facing Alabama in 2013, there was not enough revenue coming in to allow this to happen.  As a result, the legislature decided to allow the people of Alabama decide if they should dip into the Alabama Trust Fund (an account funded by the state's oil and gas royalties) by voting yes or no to an amendment which would allow a transfer of funds from the trust fund into the General Fund.  If the amendment had not passed,  the state's Medicaid program specifically would suffer catastrophic cuts that would jeopardize the federal funding match that maintains the Medicaid program.  Children First worked with the Keep Alabama Working coalition to make sure the amendment passed so the services provided to thousands of children and their families could continue not only through Medicaid but through other state services that could have been cut up to 20%. 

Juvenile Justice Reform 

Children First supported and achieved passage of the Alabama Juvenile Justice Act of 2008 which helps thousands of children and families across the state. The Act is the product of years of study and collaboration by Alabama’s juvenile and family courts, agencies, and other juvenile justice professionals. The Act does the following: 

Ensures compliance with all federal requirements so the State will retain federal funding for abused, neglected, and at-risk children

Reorganizes and clarifies the Juvenile Code for easy reference and consistent application statewide
Prohibits the use of juvenile jails and prisons for children who have not committed any crime. Strengthens the authority of courts to divert non-dangerous children from the juvenile justice system
Promotes accountability in family court proceedings by expressly defining the duties and responsibilities of key players throughout the system

The Act had broad, bi-partisan support from leaders throughout the State, including Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb and Governor Bob Riley. 

Saving Teen Lives by Promoting Safe Driving

Motor vehicle crashes are the number one cause of death for teenagers in Alabama.  In states where there are strong GDL laws, there has been a 40% reduction in the number of teen deaths.  Children First supported and achieved passage of a law that strengthens Alabama’s current graduated driver’s license statute by implementing a 3 stage process to obtain a restriction free license.

Stage I - Learner’s License: driver under 18 must hold a learner’s permit for at least a 6 month period and must be accompanied by licensed driver who is 21 or older during that time. 
Stage II - Restricted License: driver age 17 who has been driving for less than 6 months or a driver who is age 16 may not drive under following conditions unless one of exceptions contained in legislation applies:
Between 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. on weeknights
Between 11:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. on weekends (i.e., Friday and Saturday)
If there is more than 1 passenger in vehicle not including parent, legal guardian, accompanying family members or licensed driver who is at least 21 years of age
While operating any handheld device that is considered non-essential to the functioning of the vehicle
Stage III - Unrestricted License: driver age 17 if Stage II Restricted License has been issued for a period of six months or longer and the licensee has not been cited in violation of the Stage II conditions or guilty of any traffic violations.

Fighting Infant Mortality

According to data from Alabama’s Child Death Review Team the number two cause of all child deaths is SIDS. This statistic is staggering when you consider that the number one cause of death is motor vehicle accidents and SIDS can only be applied to a child under the age of 1 year. In addition, the Centers for Disease Control recently released a study claiming that SIDS is grossly over-diagnosed in infant deaths. The CDC research and the research of other agencies have shown that most “SIDS” deaths are linked to unsafe sleeping environments and/or trauma inflicted upon the infant to include:

• Co-Sleeping – when someone falls asleep holding the child and wakes to find the child dead but they are not in contact with the child at the time.
• Overlaying – Where a parent wakes up to find themselves laying upon the child
• Unsafe Environmental Hazards – Too much bedding around the child or laying the child on its stomach to rest.
• Shaken Baby Syndrome – this is where a caregiver shakes the child to quiet its cries.

The legislation Children First advocated for in 2011 mandates that police investigators use a scene investigation tool developed by the CDC called the SUIDI questionnaire to examine the scene around them when called to a child death under the age of 1. This tool will enable them to accurately judge the scene of the death and use that information to investigate the incident. Also, the SUIDI report will go to the State Child Death Review team so accurate environmental data can be gathered regarding the infant’s death. This information will enable the entire state to get a better picture of child deaths under one and will also help to prevent future child deaths by providing a map as to where prevention dollars would be best spent.

Strengthened alabama's mandatory reporting law

Children First helped to prevent child abuse and neglect by expanding the current list of mandatory reporters. The list now includes: physical therapist; all public and private K-12 employees; employees of public and private post-secondary institutions; and higher education employees. Children First also worked closely with the Department of Human Resources to streamline the formal training process for mandatory reporters and formulated a delivery plan for those needing training. In September 2014, DHR unveiled an online training website that would give mandatory reporters the training they need in an effective and convenient manner. For a complete list of mandatory reporters and information on child abuse and neglect reporting click here


Protected Alabama’s Tobacco Settlement Dollars

Children First along with the Department of Revenue (DOR) achieved the passage of legislation which allows DOR agents to seize tobacco products from companies not participating in the Tobacco Master Settlement (Non-Participating Manufacturers) from store shelves or distributors. Before this law passed, DOR agents had to call law enforcement to seize the merchandise which was a waste of time and resources. This new state law allows DOR to seize these contraband cigarettes off Alabama’s shelves which will save time, money, and show due diligence the state to honor our obligation under the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement. By the passage of this law, CF helped to protect the over $100 million dollars in annual funding the state of Alabama receives from the Master Tobacco Settlement including the Children First Trust Fund.  

Assisted in the Passage of the Drop-out Prevention Bill

This bill requires that students in Alabama stay in school until the age of 17. When they reach 17 and if they still want to drop-out of school, the student and their parent(s) or legal guardian(s) must attend an exit interview through which the implications of their decision are explained to them. This bill also created a Commission to study the alarming drop-out rate in Alabama. CF holds a seat on this Commission and recently signed off on a proposal to combat our drop-out problem. 

Advocated for the Continued Funding for the OUR Kids Initiative

The Our Kids Initiative is a partnership between three state agencies, The Department of Mental Health, The Department of Youth Services, and the Department of Human Resources. These agencies each contribute hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to provide services to children and teens that need intensive therapeutic intervention. These children are often the ones that are the hardest to help with and need special services that require more resources than the average child needs. CF believes these children particularly should receive this high quality of care and works with each of the listed state agencies to insure the program is funded each year.

Lowered the school entry age from 7 to 6 years of age 

In many instances, the earlier a child begins school the more successful they will be in their academic career. Alabama was one of the three states that did not require children to enter school by age six. This new law along with the continued expansion of quality Pre-K in Alabama will insure our children receive the education services they need during their early learning years. This philosophy has been shown through research to lower teen drop out rates. 

Insured Continued Funding for the Alabama Department of Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention

This department is the only department in the state of Alabama whose primary mission is prevention. Children First Foundation feels strongly that dollars spent wisely now on prevention will be dollars saved by the state of Alabama later. To that end, CF works diligently to protect the funding the DCNAP receives each year and when possible has advocated for more funding for the department.

Prevented the consolidation of the Department of Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention and Multiple Needs Child Office into the Department of Human Resources

These two small agencies have consistently demonstrated their efficiency and effectiveness by providing services to children and families on the local level.

Helped to pass legislation designed to expedite the adoption process

This will allow families who have been approved by the state's Department of Human Resources to be able to connect and begin a life with their new children more quickly.