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Florida urged to rejoin federal survey that guides help for youth

By creating its own survey, the state is disrupting a critical tool for tracking youth behavior, advocates say.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta works with states, including Florida, to survey youths as a way to guide health policy. Now Florida wants to develop its own survey, but advocates are urging the state to rethink that decision.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta works with states, including Florida, to survey youths as a way to guide health policy. Now Florida wants to develop its own survey, but advocates are urging the state to rethink that decision. [ RON HARRIS | AP ]
Published May 25|Updated May 25

More than three dozen Florida organizations that deal daily with children’s health and welfare issues want the state government to reconsider its move away from the federal Youth Risk Behavior Survey it has participated in for the past 30 years.

“This data has played a critical role in designing prevention and intervention programs that support our youth,” the organizations wrote in a letter to the departments of Education and Health on Tuesday. “The most efficient and cost-effective way to collect valid, reliable data that addresses the health of all students is to continue to administer the (survey).”

The survey is a system that uses questionnaires to monitor the prevalence of behaviors that can lead to death, disability and ill health among young people. They include behaviors such as fighting, bullying and use of weapons; early sexual activity; alcohol, tobacco and drug use; unhealthy eating; and low physical activity. In the past, the survey has been conducted by the state in coordination with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Florida’s interim education commissioner, Jacob Oliva, has said the state relied upon the information collected in the survey to determine the need for, and success of, policies and programs. However, he said, state officials determined they could get the same type of material more efficiently and effectively themselves.

He anticipated that much of a new state-created survey, which has not yet been completed, would mirror the questions from the federal version.

Related: Florida will track youth behavior on its own after rejecting CDC survey

Norín Dollard, Florida Policy Institute senior policy analyst and Kids Count director, said the state has no need to reinvent something that’s already provided. Local and state governments and associations already can use the existing survey to get information relevant to their children there, Dollard said, and can make comparisons to other states as well as among different demographic groups.

Moving to a different vehicle would end the ability to make comparisons with other areas, as well as with past results, she said. Plus, it would take a lengthy period of time to create a valid and sound new survey.

“It disrupts our ability to understand what’s happening with Florida’s young people,” Dollard said. “It’s just a loss, and it’s not necessary.”

The cross section of groups and individuals that signed the letter indicates that the data is practical and not political, Dollard added. It’s used for college research, community advocacy and school district programs, among other things.

“That’s why people have had such a strong reaction to it,” she said.

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The groups include the Florida Psychological Association, Center for Children’s Rights, Disability Rights Florida and the American Academy of Pediatrics Florida chapter, as well as Planned Parenthood, Equality Florida and the ACLU of Florida.

“Departments of Education and Health across the country with access to (the survey) data are better positioned to meet young people’s needs and support them in thriving at school and beyond,” they wrote. “Florida’s young people deserve at least that.”

They requested to meet with officials at both departments to discuss their concerns. The departments had not yet responded.

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