Kids top policy priority list - Catholic Courier

Kids top policy priority list

ELMIRA — Kathy Dubel has seen a sharp increase of families seeking out food kitchens during the past 16 years — and there’s no end in sight, based on the need she observed in 2006.

“We’re going to break all kinds of records,” Dubel said during the second annual “The State of the Child” gathering, held Oct. 30, 2006, at Ss. Peter and Paul Parish Center.

Dubel serves as justice-and-peace coordinator for Catholic Charities of Chemung/Schuyler, and also is volunteer director of Elmira Free Community Kitchen located at the parish center. She was among several speakers at the Oct. 30 breakfast briefing organized by the local Every Child Matters Coalition. The group, formed in 2004, involves human-service and health-care professionals; educators; civic and service organizations; faith communities; and parents. All work together to ensure that children’s needs remain a governmental priority.

The coalition’s 2006 report was distributed at the Oct. 30 meeting. Participants sought solutions to such issues as poverty, crime, health, hunger, housing, social services, early care and education. Among the concerns raised:

* The poverty rate in Chemung County is 11.2 percent, but that rises to 21.5 percent for families with children under age 18 and 26.7 percent for families with children under age 5.

* Of the 22,700 meals served in 2004 at Elmira Free Community Kitchen, 5,600 were served to children.

* Half of the individuals with housing issues being aided by Second Place East and Neighborhood Legal Services are children.

* Incidences of child abuse and maltreatment are consistently higher in Chemung County than the state average.

Many similar concerns are shared by advocates in Tompkins County, where a community forum, “How Are the Children?” took place Nov. 9 at the Greater Ithaca Activities Center. The event was sponsored by Catholic Charities of Tompkins/Tioga as well as the social-ministry committees of Tompkins parishes.

Meeting participants frequently cited the importance of appealing to governmental leaders for better conditions. According to Edie Reagan, justice-and-peace coordinator for Tompkins/Tioga Catholic Charities, key issues addressed were child care, housing, food security and mental health. For example:

* One out of three area families struggles to afford housing.

* Food pantries’ resources are stretched in the summer when children do not receive free or reduced meals through school. During this time, a family’s food money often has to go toward rent and utilities and other priorities.

* Education is the key to social mobility, so therefore community members should advocate for all children’s education.

* Many parents work two jobs, forcing the need for more quality child care during nontraditional hours.

* The need for adequate transportation is great in the Tompkins area due to its large rural setting. Transportation is needed for such things as getting children evaluated for services, for pregnant teens to access services and for children to get medical appointments, child care, etc.

Children’s concerns in the Southern Tier are shared by the Diocese of Rochester’s Public Policy Committee, which has made “Children at Risk” its prime advocacy issue for 2007. The committee will stage Public Policy Weekend Feb. 10-11, during which all diocesan parishes are being asked to take part in a petition-signing campaign after Masses.

The petition reads: “The first years of a child’s life are crucial to healthy development. Therefore, we urge the New York State Assembly, Senate, and Governor Spitzer to budget for expanded investment in quality child care, quality early education, and services in the earliest years of our children’s lives, including early intervention and home visiting.”

Organizers of the public-policy campaign reported that statewide, 848,413 children (19 percent) under age 18 live below the federal poverty level. For example, a family of four is considered poor if its annual income is under $20,000. With minimum wage at $7.15 per hour, even a parent who works full time year-round only earns about $15,000. This forces parents to make difficult budgetary choices, resulting in many of their children’s basic needs going unmet.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Details on children at risk and other public-policy concerns may be accessed at www.dor.org/charities/dioprograms/publicpolicy.htm.

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