CEO of Children's Board on mental illness & early childhood education
Dr. Luanne Panacek is the CEO of the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County. This week she attended the 24th Annual Children’s Mental Health Research and Policy Conference in Tampa, and sat on a panel that responded to keynote speaker Geoffrey Canada, a somewhat controversial education reformer and founder of the Harlem Children’s Zone in New York.
WMNF’s Dawn Morgan Elliott interviewed Panasek today, and began by asking her to explain the role of the Children’s Board in our community.
“The Children’s Board is an independent taxing authority that collects ad valorum property tax. About 50 cents for every thousand dollars collected. And we put it back out into the community really to promote health and wellness. Promoting healthy births, school readiness and early school success.”
Was this the first time you’ve attended the conference?
"No, I was at USF’s Florida Mental Health Institute in the Department of Child and Family Studies for 17 years, so I’ve been to every conference that they've had for 25 years. It’s really one of the preeminent research conferences around children's mental health in the world.”
Can you touch on why the research is so important in terms of educating children?
"As a field, children’s mental health is relatively new. In the 70’s when I first started in the field, it would be unheard of to talk about childhood depression. Today we’re so much more sophisticated about these things. So much of the field is focused on prevention and early intervention. And so there is a lot of approaches that have been showcased over the course of 25 years at the research conference that really talk about research based practices and things that really work with kids. First and foremost, the early identification and intervention is just essential and, I think, in the last 15 years we’ve gotten better at looking at mental health issues, and recognizing that the mental health of parents often influences the mental health of kids."
Is your background in education?
"“I have an undergraduate degree in criminology. I was going to be a lawyer. Then I got a Masters in counseling because I was already working with kids in mental health. And then got a doctorate in special education, and minor in public health in community and family health.”
So you’re on the side of preventative instead of the legal side.
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“I’m absolutely on the side of preventative. And if you were at the conference you heard Geoff Canada talk about costs and from a policy perspective, how idiotic it is to use the argument that things like quality Pre-K is too expensive when you look at what the cost of incarceration are, or what the cost of foster care for a year are, what the cost for a kid to be in juvenile delinquency program. It’s ridiculous to even talk about the cost being cost prohibitive. It’s just a mind set, it has slowly shifted, I have to say. I’m afraid that we’re in an environment right now where the progress that’s been made has taken several steps back. But most people, most citizens actually, we’ve canvassed Hillsborough County before and I was pleasantly surprised that the average citizen knows the importance of quality early childhood education, and they had it as one of their top priorities. And while Florida has VPK, voluntary pre-kindergarten, we’ve never funded it to the level that you can get good quality. It’s always has to be subsidized by something else. And right now the Governor is suggesting that VPK might not be necessary and it shouldn’t be an entitlement. That would be very unfortunate. Every minute you’re really not focused on the child and focused on results, and whether something is truly making a difference, you are losing the opportunity with that child and we don’t have time to spare. And we are going to have a deficit, a gap here that’s substantial pulling up the ranks. Not just in numbers, but also in ability to lead, ability to fill important jobs.”