Children at risk will be the focus of major 2006-07 advocacy efforts by the Diocese of Rochester’s Public Policy Committee.
The committee announced that it also will promote education about two other priority issues: care for the environment, particularly in the face of global climate change; and comprehensive immigration reform.
The major advocacy issue is termed “children at risk” because it refers to children in a variety of different situations, including those living in unsafe neighborhoods or homes; those facing mental-health issues; those who aren’t receiving adequate child care; and those living in poverty.
Children in poverty really are at the heart of the issue, according to Marvin Mich, director of social policy for Rochester’s Catholic Family Center.
“Basically it’s looking at the rather appalling statistics for Rochester and the entire diocese regarding children and poverty,” said Mich, who is a member of the diocesan Public Policy Committee.
In New York, 19 percent — or 848,413 — of the state’s children live in poor families, Mich said, noting that Rochester has the 11th-highest rate of child poverty in the entire nation. Child poverty is not limited to urban settings, however, as 21.9 percent of children in Yates County, 19.3 percent of children in Steuben County and 10.2 percent of children in Livingston County live in poverty, he added. At just less than 1 in 10 children, Ontario County has the lowest rate of child poverty in the 12-county diocese, he noted.
“These numbers are not just statistics. It’s people in our community that are being affected by this,” Mich said.
The Public Policy Committee is in the midst of preparing educational packets about child poverty. To be sent to parishes in August, the packets will contain material from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, the Children’s Defense Fund and “Restoring the Covenant,” a 2005 statement by the state’s bishops about society’s responsibility for its poor and vulnerable members.
Parishes will be encouraged to promote awareness of the issue during the fall, and several regional panel discussions will be presented on the topic. In early December, committee members will try to gauge the political climate in Albany and determine which child-related issues — such as housing, child care and child poverty — might be priorities in the next year’s budget. They’ll then create a relevant petition, which will be circulated at parishes during diocesan Public Policy Weekend, Feb. 10-11. The signed petitions will be taken to Albany in March for the New York State Catholic Conference’s annual Public Policy Forum, Mich said.
The petition will only focus on the issue of children at risk, but during the coming year diocesan Public Policy Committee members will encourage parishes to educate their parishioners about the committee’s other two priority issues.
The committee identified care for the environment as an education priority this year because global climate change could have a very harsh impact on the poor and vulnerable, said Kathy Dubel, justice-and-peace director for Catholic Charities of Chemung, Schuyler and Tioga counties. Dubel also is a member of the diocesan Public Policy Committee.
“The science is clear. The climate is beginning to change, and the projected consequences are not pretty,” Dubel said.
Those projected consequences include heat waves, droughts, flooding, intense storms, rising sea levels, the spread of tropical diseases to temperate regions and the loss of biodiversity, she noted.
“These conditions would affect human health and well-being. Poor people and poor nations will have difficulty coping,” Dubel added.
Since the United States makes up 4 percent of world population but generates about 25 percent of the hazardous greenhouse gases that are believed to cause global climate change, citizens need to take responsibility and make a positive change, she said. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops recognized this need in 2001, when they released “Global Climate Change: A Plea for Dialogue, Prudence and the Common Good.”
In this document, the bishops teach that responding to climate change is about stewardship of God’s creation and the human responsibility to protect future generations, Dubel said.
“The USCCB has just initiated a Catholic Coalition on Climate Change, so the diocesan Public Policy Committee is responding to the call of our bishops to join them in responding to this urgent issue,” Dubel said, noting that the diocese and the state Catholic conference recently received a grant that will allow them to hold a training day to teach people about the science and Catholic social teaching relevant to global climate change. “The hope is that the New York state dioceses will integrate the global climate change into their social ministry,” she said.
The training day will be held Oct. 25 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Diocese of Albany’s Pastoral Center.
Meanwhile, the diocesan PPC identified comprehensive immigration reform as another education priority in part because the issue has been on the U.S. bishops’ agenda for the past few months, said Sister Janet Korn, RSM, social-justice awareness coordinator for diocesan Catholic Charities and a member of the diocesan Public Policy Committee.
“They’re really making a concentrated effort to get the people of the nation understanding the issue,” Sister Korn said. “Our Catholic social teaching invites us to really look at the dignity of every person, apply that dignity to immigrants coming in, and recognize their value and their worth as people.”
Immigration reform has been hotly debated during recent weeks, Sister Korn said, noting that there is a danger people will begin to look at it as a strictly political — rather than moral — issue.
“We just have to look at the political issue with a moral lens. It involves human beings. It’s about life,” she said.