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Parents Spotlight Children’s Issues During Presidential Campaign

February 4, 2013


Every issue is a family issue.

Ed Condon

Executive Director

California Head Start Association

Iraq. Gas prices. Candidates’ personalities. These issues have been center stage in the 2008 presidential election.

But parents and child advocates say the campaign is ignoring some of the country’s most important constituents: kids.

“I’ll be honest, I’ve been frustrated,” says Tony Washington, an advocate in Stockton who is raising his younger siblings after his mother died two years ago. “All you hear about is what the candidates’ pastors are saying, but no one’s talking about families losing their homes, the lack of quality after-school programs…We have to hold our elected officials responsible.”

Washington and thousands of other parents are working to bring family and children’s issues to the forefront of the presidential campaign through Equal Voice for America’s Families 2008, a national campaign funded by the Marguerite Casey Foundation. Equal Voice aims to bring more attention to working families’ issues.

More attention to families

“The struggle of youth to pay for college, newcomer families to learn English, parents to get by on $12 an hour while paying for child care and $80 to fill up their gas tank—these issues are not really being talked about by the candidates,” says parent activist Kim Kruckel, Northern California coordinator of the Equal Voice campaign.

Voters seem ready for change.

According to a 2007 study by the Every Child Matters campaign, 72% of voters said they don’t think political leaders are doing enough for the health, education, and well-being of children. Also, 76% said the president and Congress should make child-related issues a higher priority.

Town hall meetings

Equal Voice, working with about 200 local groups, has organized about 60 town hall meetings around the country. The non-profit, non-partisan organization invited working and low-income families to share their experiences and talk about the political issues they’d like to see emphasized this year.

Equal Voice “gets my story and some of the other parents’ stories out there,” says Shylla Strickland, a town hall participant who lives in transitional housing for homeless families in Chico.

The meetings, which have been conducted in 12 languages, have attracted about 10,000 families from a broad range of backgrounds. In California, 12 meetings drew about 2,000 families from Redding to San Diego.

“I don’t think (politicians) realize how hard it is for someone in my position to better my life,” Strickland says. “We need to have child care to go to school and get off welfare.”

Working families platform

Based on the town hall discussions, staff and parent delegates from Equal Voice will compile a “working families platform,” to be presented at the Equal Voice convention Sept. 6 in Los Angeles.

“By holding this convention, we are definitely hoping the issues of working families get higher priority,” Kruckel says.

Based on the town hall meetings, Equal Voice is emphasizing four main issues: health care for children, affordable college education, affordable child care and living wages

Clear expectations

Political activism is the best way to change policies affecting children, says Washington, who works for a child-advocacy group in San Joaquin County and recently participated in an Equal Voice forum in Stockton.

“We need to let our elected officials know what we expect of them, Washington says. “They need to make sure the money is there for our kids. It’s the responsibility of all of us to make that happen.”

When asked if the elected officials will listen, Strickland responds: “If there’s enough of our voices.”

Head Start parents: Political action pays off

Head Start parents, encouraged and educated by Head Start’s tradition of parent involvement, can show results from their political activism.

“We’re big on empowering people to take responsibility and have a voice,” says Ed Condon, executive director of the California Head Start Association.

Parents can now register to vote at most Head Start sites, and parent councils are encouraged to become educated about local and national issues that affect children and families.

“Every issue is a family issue,” Condon says. “Not just education and child care, but the environment, defense policy. We strongly encourage folks to learn about these things and get involved.”

Taking action

Last year, while Congress was debating the reauthorization of the Head Start program, California parents were active in pushing legislators to support it.

Marie Walker, as a Head Start parent ambassador in Norwalk, explained the reauthorization issue to other parents, saying “if you don’t speak up for your children, no one will.”

To promote reauthorization, Walker says they had letter-writing campaigns.

“You can’t do it on school grounds, but I live a couple of houses away from the school so we met in front of the school and we walked to my house and wrote letters,” Walker says. “They all wrote in their own language.”

Walker says she mailed and emailed them to politicians, including Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer as well as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“I forwarded them my own Head Start story, how Head Start has affected my family,” Walker says.

Seeing results

In Shasta County, Wesley Brown, another parent ambassador, says he witnessed one congressman change his tune.

“We got to see (U.S. Rep.) Wally Herger change his vote on Head Start,” Brown says. He always voted against Head Start, but last year he voted for the reauthorization of Head Start.”

When asked how they were successful, Brown responds, “We have 36 centers. I made it to at least 22. We had 500 parents write two letters each.”

The parents’ activism proved to have a profound impact.

Congress reauthorized Head Start, adding $450 million in new funding to pay for enrolling 10,000 more children, expanding full-day and Early Head Start programs, and increasing teachers’ salaries and training opportunities.

“Even if it’s just a small, local issue, stay involved,” Kruckel says.

Originally written by Carolyn Jones.