Stateline Story

Children's Groups Seek To Preserve Programs

In the face of the economic recession and widespread budget cuts, children's advocacy groups across the country hope to hang on to existing budget items and programs in upcoming state legislative sessions.

Access to health care, economic security and early childhood education for kids up to age five are other top state priorities, the National Association of Child Advocates says.

The group, which has members in 49 states across the country (except Alaska) and is backed by the Prudential Foundation, has unveiled a state-by-state review of what children's issues are high on advocates' wish lists.

"This report ...makes clear that there is no single national agenda for children," says the association's Tamara Lucas Copeland. "Children in all 50 states have unique unmet needs, and policymakers need to respond in different ways," she says.

Member organizations, which go by different names depending on the state, fight for better health and welfare programs for kids, families and communities. Officials from Maryland's Advocates for Children and Youth helped policymakers shape the state's children's health insurance program.

Elsewhere, Kansas Action for Children helped to shape the state's foster care system following privatization of the services in 1996.

Though advocates acknowledge it will be tough to draw attention to children's issues in light of September's terrorist attacks and related news, officials also see increased support for kids. "There's more potential now for doing great things for families and kids than ever before," says Kansas' Gary Brunk. "Since Sept. 11, more people are focused on family, children and communities. That's the silver lining in a dark picture, and it's a great opportunity," Brunk says.

Among additional results: 

  • Four states: Florida, Nebraska, North Carolina and South Dakotasaid juvenile justice issues are a priority,
  • Tennessee wants to improve health services for minorities,
  • Nevada would like to launch a state web site that lists convicted sex offenders,
  • Oklahoma and South Dakota want to decrease youth tobacco use,
  • Iowa and New Mexico advocates aim to fight for tax increases to beef up health programs, and
  • California, Georgia, Kansas, Michigan and Pennsylvania plan to focus on after-school programs