As CEO of The Children’s Trust, Pinecrest resident James Haj leads the charge on planning, advocating for and funding strategic investments that improve the lives of all children and families in Miami-Dade County, including more than $2.5 million in grants to support high quality early learning childcare programs. This month, we spoke with Haj via email about the Trust’s dedication to their “Thrive by 5” initiative, the need to support parents and caregivers and the challenges that face Miami-Dade as we look ahead.
What is the Thrive by 5 initiative and why was it created?
The Children’s Trust recognizes the importance of early brain development and its impact on later life success. As a result, we have invested in an array of strategies to support young children’s physical, cognitive, social and emotional readiness for starting school. Thrive by 5 aims to coordinate a continuum of service supports that include early intervention services, parenting and home visitation services, early literacy services, early childhood health and our early learning quality improvement system. Our expected community results from our Thrive by 5 investments are: Children are supported by nurturing and involved caregivers, children are prepared and ready for kindergarten, children regularly access medical, dental & behavioral health care, children attend quality early learning programs and children behave appropriately in schools, homes and communities.
Early childhood programs are obviously very important, but it continues through into the home. How will these initiatives support parents and caregivers?
Through the Thrive by 5 initiative the Trust funds group parenting and home visitation services. We fund evidence-based programs in family’s homes, pediatric offices and other community-based settings. The programs offer individual learning and skills-building for parents of infants and young children, as well as the chance to connect with and support one another in groups. Additionally, through the use of developmental screenings, parents gain understanding of developmental milestones and are connected to resources and further assessment if needed.
What are you most excited about as you look ahead to the next five years?
Thrive by 5 is exceptionally exciting. Since 85 percent of brain development occurs by age three this is by far is the greatest investment and a moral imperative. If we do early childhood right many issues, we face on the back end will be remedied.
Our Summer Youth Internship program, a partnership with the County, school system and other partners places youth ages 15 to 18 into paid internships during the summer. The first year, we accommodated approximately 1,500 youth, second year was 1,800 and last year there were over 2,600 participants. We look forward to this summer’s participation. Employers interview and select those that they wish to hire. Students come insured, have a bank account opened, are paid nearly $1,400, receive valuable work experience, and earn high school credit. Best is the partnership pays for all of this. This is a win win situation. You can find more information at
Looking ahead, children’s savings accounts are another new initiative where we are partnering with others to open college savings accounts for children entering kindergarten. The plan is within five years is to open up accounts for all children entering kindergarten in Miami-Dade.
What do you think makes the organization unique and what do you wish the community knew about it that they may not?
The Trust is unique. There are sister organizations in nine other counties in Florida, but Miami is by far the largest and Florida is the only state that has the Children Services Council (CSC) built into statute. This community should be exceptionally proud to have such an amazing organization. It says a lot about Miami in that it cherishes and understands the value of investing in children and families. One of my goals is to improve the awareness of The Trust so that more members of our community are aware of the great work that we do and that as an organization we provide services where needed.
What do you see as the biggest challenge for the county in the early childhood space?
There are a few local challenges in the early learning space specifically. One of the biggest challenges we face, not only in our community, but around the Country, is the low compensation for the early learning workforce. Each year we conduct a workforce study and it continues to show that the median hourly wage in Miami Dade County is $8.50. In my opinion, we are underpaying those folks that have one of the most important jobs in our community. High quality early learning experiences set the stage for later life success. We should highly value our early learning educators and compensate them accordingly.