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The Children’s Movement seeks brighter future for California’s kids
A group of kids participate in a storytelling workshop at Acción Latina on June 27, 2017. Photo: Mabel Jiménez

Whether you ask a parent, a teacher, or even a college student like me, creating a better world for kids is a top priority. If that’s the case though, then why is it that a recent study ranked California 36th out of 50 states in children’s wellbeing? If being “pro-kid” is truly a top priority, then children need to be supported across all sectors so that each child can live a safe, happy and healthy childhood.

While California is continuously applauded for its progressive agenda, the state lags behind on a series of important measures that impact children in all phases of life. The state is home to approximately 9.1 million children, nearly half of them come from immigrant families and 1.3 million are English learners. The demographics show many children need support—43 percent of children are low income, 20 percent live in poverty, and 21 percent are food insecure, meaning they lack reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. These shocking statistics prompt the question: With California having the strongest economy in the United States, why are so many of its children lacking the resources they need to thrive? The reality is that while most everyone cares about kids, public policy doesn’t reflect those values. Why? Because children haven’t had the strong base of support they need to be prioritized in public policy.

The Children’s’ Movement hopes to solve this problem by creating a network that connects  more than 2,800 organizations and small businesses across the state to current policy issues, and giving them ways to advocate for their communities, such as our letter campaigns that are sent straight to policymakers in Sacramento. Current members of the movement range from local Boys & Girls Clubs to immigrant rights centers. And while these diverse groups may have largely differing agendas, they can come together on one crucial issue: kids.

One example of such overlap is the issue of home visiting programs. We know that providing resources and support to parents, especially during pregnancy and in the earliest years of a child’s life, can be particularly monumental for a child’s physical and emotional health in the long run. One evidence-based program that has been proven to be effective are voluntary, evidence-based home visiting programs, which have been shown to improve parenting practices, reduce child maltreatment, increase school readiness, reduce low-weight births, and promote family self-sufficiency. This is especially true to Latino families, as 56.5 percent of participants in home visiting identify are Latino.

California receives a small amount of federal funding through the Maternal Infant and Early Childhood Homevisting (MIECHV) grant program to fund voluntary, evidence-based home visiting for 2,400 families a year, but this number is far short of the hundreds of thousands of mothers and families that might need and could benefit from home visiting. The primary demographics that receive home visiting services are Latinas, young people and people with less than a college degree.

In an effort to support these young mothers and families, The Children’s Movement came together to produce an advocacy letter in support of a new state-funded CalWORKs Home Visiting initiative in May 2018. More than 490 members signed onto a letter that outlined the need to expand home visiting programs and why the CalWORKs Home Visiting Initiative should be made permanent, rather than a pilot limited to first-time parents as Governor Jerry Brown had proposed. The power of The Children’s Movement helped to make the proposed initiative become a reality.

In July of this year, Brown signed the 2018-2019 state budget, which created and made permanent the CalWORKs Home Visiting Initiative. This new funding is a monumental step in the right direction in terms of providing resources to the most economically vulnerable parents in California. Given the small number of families that are currently served by home visiting, it is clear, however, that there is still much work to be done in terms of expanding these programs and increasing equity in the state.

The Children’s Movement shows us what it means to be pro-kid.  It shows us community  groups, businesses, nonprofits, education centers and health groups that want kids to be prioritized in Sacramento.  It shows us that when the well being of kids is up for debate, we come out of our isolated positions and join each other as one collective voice in support of children.

Everyday we don’t engage in advocacy is a crucial day for a child lacking resources. We urge your groups to sign on to The Children’s Movement at childrennow.org/themovement/. We must remember that our voices are the most powerful tool in the fight for the rights and the equitable distribution of resources for our children, our families, and our communities.

Story by: Marlene Sanchez and Lucy Schaefer, The Children’s Movement