Starting in 2005 and continuing over the next couple of years, most Missouri communities experienced reduced funding in mental health and substance abuse services for children and youth due to budget cuts. Recognizing that the needs of children and families in St. Louis County far exceeded the resources and support systems available, a coalition of committed local nonprofit agencies decided to address the growing problem.
An independent needs assessment was commissioned and a polling survey conducted which documented the need and gave the agencies the data that St. Louis County voters needed to support the initiative. Using Missouri State Statutes RSMO 67.1775 and 210.861, which allows local communities to create a community children’s service fund for ten specific mental health and substance abuse service areas through a referendum, the St. Louis County Putting Kids First Campaign was launched in 2008.
The idea of using local funds to bridge the gap between needs and services was not a new concept. In fact, the surrounding counties of St. Charles, Jefferson, Lincoln, and the City of St. Louis had passed local tax measures to support vital children and youth mental health and substance abuse services and they were seeing positive results. All four counties were showing improved outcomes in regards to reduced crime rates, increased school performance, decreased child abuse reports, increased business productivity, and improved healthcare outcomes.
The St. Louis County community children’s service fund ballot initiative, known as Putting Kids First and Proposition 1, was the first successful petition drive to place an issue on the county-wide ballot in St. Louis County in many decades; the coalition of agencies collected over 58,000 signatures to get the needed amount signatures to place the initiative on the 2008 ballot. Voters overwhelmingly recognized the need to help area children, as time after time people would tell their story about a loved one or someone they knew who was going without needed services. The need was real and St. Louis County voters felt this initiative was the right thing to do and it was the right time to do it.
Putting Kids First passed on November 4, 2008 with a resounding 62% of St. Louis County voters’ approval. With support across St. Louis County communities, voters made a clear choice that supporting children and families was essential, especially in such difficult economic times. This collaborative effort of forty-four children and family serving agencies in St. Louis County is a world class example of a coalition influencing public policy to increase resources for children, youth, and families. Taxes for the Fund started to be collected in April 2009 and are anticipated to total $40 million annually. In August 2009, St. Louis County Executive, Mr. Charlie Dooley, finalized the appointments of nine individuals to serve on the Board of Directors, representing diverse backgrounds, skills, and geography.