Now that the elections and Thanksgiving are in our rearview mirror, our attention turns to the holidays of December and the hope of what a new year will bring.
2016 has been a long year for the advocates, organizations, and agencies across the state and across the country who have worked tirelessly to ensure that basic needs are met for our most vulnerable populations. It has been an even longer and much harder year for the children and families who continue to feel the effects of a shredded safety net and an opiate crisis that shows no mercy on those who are afflicted with the disease and the innocent victims caught in the current.
We have watched more of our children slip into poverty, go to bed hungry, and wonder where that bed is going to be tomorrow night. And as December’s cold winds blow through the state we now fear for those who have no place warm to escape them.
The Thanksgiving break afforded me the time to spend time with loved ones, eat some great desserts, watch some football, and reflect on the feelings of frustration and anger I have felt lately. I have regrouped and am now ready to get back to work. That work means playing offense instead of playing defense (stealing some football terminology).
We have gotten pretty good at playing defense when it comes to addressing the difficult challenges that face our state. The primary obstacle we face is not related to a lack of goodwill, but rather to the fundamental way we understand the nature of the problems we face. More times than not, we merely respond to symptoms of a given problem [defense] and don’t pay adequate attention to the problem that is producing the symptoms [offense]. All of which puts the cart before the horse and keeps us from truly moving forward.
Take, for instance, the growing issue of child poverty. When we think about helping those in need (“giving back to those less fortunate,” as the popular adage goes), many of us usually focus on acts of charitable giving. After all it is the season of giving. In the malls we find Christmas trees with cards on them asking for a gift for a child in need. At the grocery store are pre-packaged groceries that we can purchase for a family in need. Charity in its many forms tries to help people who are in need, which is certainly important and worthy of our best efforts.
But even more important is figuring out why people are in need in the first place, and then working toward alleviating the root causes of such need (it’s one thing to give food to a person who is hungry, but it’s another thing entirely to eliminate the reasons they are hungry in the first place). While we can of course celebrate acts of charity that take place in our community, the ultimate goal isn’t simply about responding to symptoms, but abolishing the problems that produce the symptoms.
So, don’t you think that at a time when we see the income gap widening, ninety-five percent of the recovery gains since 2009 going to the top 1%, over ¼ of all jobs in the U.S. paying below poverty wages, and child well-being indicators falling in our state, now is the right time for all of us to rally around a set of common goals that will strengthen families and put them on a course leading to economic security?
Take a look at Every Child Matters’ 5 priority areas in the section below. Is there an area that catches your attention? Give us a call or send us an e-mail and we’ll give you some ideas about how you can help advocate. Your voice is especially important now.
Many New Hampshire kids are doing fine – but many are not.
1. Equal Opportunity: Children remain more likely to be poor than any other age group, with more than one in ten in poverty in New Hampshire in 2015 (10.7 percent), and the gap between the haves and have-nots continues to grow.
2. Family and Work: The Census Bureau data shows that in 58 percent of poor New Hampshire families, at least one person worked, although not always full time or year-round. Even when work and other income helps people to live up to twice the poverty line (up to $37,742 for a family of three), most people recognize that making ends meet is not that easy for those this near poverty. One in five Granite Staters are trying to get by with incomes this low.
The average cost in New Hampshire for an infant in a child care center is more than $11,800 a year for an infant and for a 4-year-old, it’s more than $21,250.
3. Access to Education: New Hampshire currently does not have a state-funded preschool program. Only 4 percent of 3-year-olds and 6 percent of 4-year-olds are enrolled in a public preschool program. A year of tuition for an instate student at the University of New Hampshire costs $16,017 plus room, board, books and incidentals $27,000+. The maximum Pell grant award covers only $5,775.
4. Children’s Healthcare: 12,000 New Hampshire children were without health insurance in 2014 and 94,153 children in New Hampshire were enrolled in Medicaid in 2014, increasing 15.1% from 2013.
5. Children’s Safety: In 2014, New Hampshire had 15,184 total referrals for child abuse and neglect. Of those, 9,289 reports were referred for investigation.
In 2014, there were 646 victims of abuse or neglect in New Hampshire, a rate of 2.4 per 1,000 children, decreasing 21.4% from 2013. Of these children, 79.1% were neglected, 8.7% were physically abused, and 15.5% were sexually abused.
Equal Opportunity. Individual outcomes will always vary. But when every child gets a fair shot at success, America’s families, communities and the economy as a whole will benefit. Lifting children from poverty and removing discrimination or other barriers to development and achievement are a key government function. As noted by the eminent researcher and author Robert Putnam, denial of equal opportunity is a dagger to the heart of the American Dream.
Family and Work. Stagnant incomes and workplace practices that pit being a parent against being a provider strain families and harm kids. Working and having a family shouldn’t be so hard. Paid sick and family medical leave, access to affordable childcare and better incomes can help provide the economic security and flexibility that parents need to build their careers and support their families
Access to Education. Research demonstrates that 80 percent of a child’s brain development occurs between the ages of zero and five. Yet little is invested at the federal level in early childhood education. All kids should have access to high-quality preschool regardless of parental income or where they live. Later in life, a teenager willing to work hard in college to get skills needed for success should not be blocked due to race and should not be burdened with a level of debt more crushing than that endured by any previous generation.
Children’s Healthcare. More children have access to health care than ever due to the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP) and children’s protections in the Affordable Care Act (ACA). While not perfect, these laws prohibit insurance company discrimination against children with pre-existing conditions, require insurance companies to cover child preventive care, and help ensure families won’t go broke when their child gets sick. Proposed policy changes must detail how children’s protections will be maintained or enhanced.
Children’s Safety. Every child needs a safe environment in their home, school and neighborhood. Preventing child abuse and neglect, as well as minimizing gun violence, a leading killer of children and teens, are top priorities for voters.