(Editor’s note: Following is the Our Children, Our Future campaign outlined, as provided by the organization.)
Thirty percent (30%) of West Virginia boys and girls under age six live in poverty. Our state also has the highest rate of 16-24 year-olds who are neither in school, nor in the labor force. Research in brain development shows that social, emotional and cognitive development is shaped in early childhood and has a lifelong effect. Poor kids are five times more likely to have children outside marriage, twice as likely to be arrested, and nearly three times as likely to have severe health problems. Poor kids also end up earning incomes less than half those of their counterparts. Our prison population has tripled in the last 20 years, and we spend $23,000+ on each inmate — roughly the cost of providing full-time quality child care to five young kids. Taking care of our most vulnerable children is not only the right thing to do; it is the best way to help our state’s health, welfare, and economy in the long run. To do this, we are building an organized, statewide voice of kids, families, and allies to advocate for the changes we need.
Over the next two years, as we begin this campaign, our goals are to:
-- Organize a broad coalition across race, religious, geographic, and ideological lines.
-- Survey and mobilize a base of families and kids to share their stories and lead this campaign.
-- Research and develop a broad policy agenda that we can win.
Our track record and our team
We are a leading group of West Virginians — 160+ policy advocates, service providers, religious leaders, parents, labor and business leaders — who have begun to take action to fight child poverty. Through 48 community meetings, a 450-person legislative action day, 11 regional forums around the state to educate our communities and lawmakers, and more than 5,000 petitions, letters, calls, and e-mails to legislators, we have already won six significant victories for West Virginia kids — from Medicaid expansion to Feed To Achieve to stopping child care cuts and more. Child poverty is a big problem. But if we continue to build the political will, we can prove that it is not an inevitable one. We are still at the beginning of a campaign that may take a generation. We invite you to join our team.
What we can do
We hope you will join us. Here are some of the ways you can add your voice to this effort:
-- Become a co-sponsor and add your organization’s name to our efforts. You will receive email updates and be able to vote on our statewide platform each year.
-- Participate in our upcoming Policy Symposium to help build our 2014 platform, Sept. 24-25 in Charleston, or come to one of our Policy Workshops (Aug. 21 in Beckley or Aug. 23 in Bridgeport) to get the skills and tools you need.
-- Host a community meeting to get the conversation started about what can be done in your region.
-- Make a donation. This campaign will require funding to research, print materials, educate our lawmakers, and mobilize kids and families to make their voices heard.
For information, contact West Virginia Healthy Kids & Families director Stephen Smith (ssmith@wvhealthykids .org, 304-610-6512).