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Our History

Lawton Chiles, who served as Florida’s Governor from 1991 through 1998, focused a major part of his administration on building a state that was committed to insuring the healthy development of all children. His wife, Rhea Chiles, created The Lawton Chiles Foundation to continue the Governor’s commitment to children by assisting communities to become Whole Child Communities.
The Whole Child Project is not another program, but a philosophy that uses strategic planning, web-based technology, performance measurement and broad-based community engagement to build communities where everyone works together to make sure children thrive.

The Governor understood that successful nurturing and development of all children required a dramatically new approach. An approach that:

  • Starts early—before conception.
  • Provides continuous support to parents.
  • Is grounded in the family.
  • Is holistic, considering the physical, economic, social, cultural and spiritual environment in which the child lives.
  • Creates a “no wrong door” culture whereby service providers are committed to building collaborative service delivery networks instead of competitive, single strategy agencies and institutions.
  • Builds a partnership across all sectors of our society whose activities impinge on the lives of children.
  • Provides state funding to ensure fairness, equity, and consistent outcomes.

More About Whole Child Manatee

In 2001 a partnership of policy makers, civic leaders, funders, service providers, businesses and parents in Manatee County recognized that too many of our infants and young children were not developing the cognitive, physical, emotional and social skills necessary to participate successfully in school. Despite a significant number and variety of services for parents and young children, 19% or nearly one in five of our children entering kindergarten were not ready for this experience. It became clear that the solution to this problem required a change in the way the community supported young children and their parents. More attention had to be paid to the interaction of factors that contribute to creating child well being and to the importance of integrating services to address this interaction.

Ultimately, we needed a more effective way of involving parents in determining what support services they needed and facilitating receipt of those services. Whole Child Manatee was created with assistance from The Lawton Chiles Foundation to implement a holistic approach to improving the health and well-being of children ages zero to five. Whole Child has since expandedto include children to the age of nine, but remains committed to those critical principals of prevention.

Whole Child Manatee is a communitywide effort to get our children off to the best start in life by ensuring they have everything they need to thrive. Families with young children often need help: some lack education, information or economic stability, or they may not know where to go for help. Working families often struggle due to a lack of time, information or adequate child care. Other families are strained by the many demands of caring for young children or dealing with a child with special physical or emotional needs.

We cannot leave it to government or human service agencies alone to meet the needs of families. Whole Child Manatee seeks to engage the entire community in a commitment to our youngest residents because we recognize their future – and ours – hinges on ensuring the best start for every child.

A growing body of research shows that the first five years of life are crucial to brain development, to acquiring the social skills necessary to grow into good citizens, and to developing emotional strength and physical and mental health.