Why we need a change in children’s advocacy

Children Now® Insider: Stories, News, And Insights On Children’s Advocacy

By Ted Lempert, President, Children Now
December 19th, 2018

When I came to Children Now 14 years ago, I was determined to resolve something that stumped me as a California legislator and County Supervisor. Day in and day out groups representing interests far less important than kids, and with much less voter support and fewer financial resources, would achieve much stronger policy results.

These other interests were strategically coordinated and met with me with clear, aggressive appeals for greater investments and stronger leadership on their issues. But when I met with advocates representing children’s issues, I walked away unsure of what to do, either because they didn’t have a clear ask or their asks were in conflict with each other. In my years in public office, I championed a number of children’s issues, but I was continually concerned about the lack of pressure advocates in the children’s space put on me and my colleagues to do right by kids.

This lack of effective advocacy is alarming. After all, there is no more urgent or important matter to California’s future than supporting our children to reach their full potential. Our kids face very real barriers to their abilities to thrive. Structural racism in the education and health care systems challenge the opportunities of the nearly three-quarters of children of color in California. There are more than 4.3 million children living in hard-working immigrant families who fear deportation or separation from their family members and are scared to access the basic services they need to thrive. Nearly half (43%) of kids live in low-income families that are fighting to give the next generation more than what they had.

At Children Now, I had the opportunity to explore and compare children’s advocacy to other interests through an extensive study we conducted with McKinsey and others. We asked the question: Are kids different? And was that why children’s advocacy didn’t have to apply the same lessons as everyone else. What we found is pretty simple – kids are NOT different from other interests when it comes to changing public policy.

Don’t get me wrong, the challenges facing kids are are complex problems to solve, for sure. There is no silver bullet solution to improving conditions for our kids – many reforms and investments are needed. But children’s advocacy could be much more successful if it adopts the strategies that other, more effective interests employ. For too long, advocacy for kids hasn’t been strategic or organized enough to build the power that other groups in California’s interest-driven politics have. In fact, currently, “children’s advocacy,” for the most part, isn’t framed about kids at all. It’s about individual, siloed issues, like obesity prevention or teacher training, or it’s driven by groups that have interests that aren’t primarily focused on what’s best for kids.

As California looks toward a new Administration, children have an opportunity to be at the forefront of the state’s policymaking. But to capitalize on this moment in time, we need to dramatically reset advocacy for kids in California. We have to harness and coordinate the voices of the thousands of organizations that serve and care about kids along with the enormous public support, and use that to push our state’s leaders to do what they know is right – but are too often pulled away from by the advocacy of other more effectively organized interests. By adapting proven strategies of other groups, we can overcome the scarcity model that means kids of color always get less and resource competition that fosters the faulty notion that investing more in one area of children’s wellbeing means divesting in another.

Children Now puts kids at the center of our advocacy efforts, connecting the field across sectors and pushing for changes in all systems that serve kids. We are not just focused on coordinating the voices of those traditionally working in advocacy, but also representing the voices of thousands of organizations across the state through The Children’s Movement that are doing right by kids in their communities but who don’t always have the capacity to meaningfully participate in policymaking or can’t in a coordinated way. Together, our voices can not only match but exceed the power of other traditionally more powerful groups.

Our organization is a model for transforming children’s advocacy. It has been a long journey since our strategic planning process. We have experienced successes and setbacks, and lessons learned in implementing that model along the way. But the same basic theme is constant – solidifying the base through the proven strategies of other interest groups will ensure all kids have access to an array of necessary, quality supports pre-natal through age 26.

Today, we’ve launched a new website and branding dedicated to telling the story of our work to transform children’s advocacy and the lives of the millions of California kids that must have stronger representation in policymaking. You’ll see how we are employing the four components that all successful interests group use. We want to share with you what we’ve learned, are continuing to learn, and how things are changing for California’s kids. Take a tour and keep up with the latest news by subscribing to the Children Now Insider.