Who Speaks for Children?
by Mario Morino, Co-founder of VPP
Somewhere, somehow, sometime in the last 30 to 50 years, we’ve let the situation for children erode. While we are facing a war on terrorism globally, we are facing a battle for our children’s future right here in America. We say that children are our most important resource, but we don’t put our minds and our money where our mouths are. If we did, we wouldn’t have statistics like these:
Why is this? There are a number of reasons. First, children’s issues are not front and center in the public eye. They are not as obvious as a slow line at a motor vehicle office or a congested highway. Second, there is a lack of sound research or bipartisan education efforts to make the public and our policymakers aware of the critical issues facing America’s children. Third, children don’t have powerful lobbyists representing their interests and telling their stories in Washington and in statehouses across the country; there is no AARP for kids! And finally, because kids don’t vote, they have no political voice.
As a result, when cash-starved governments look for places to cut dollars, children’s programs are often the first to fall under the knife. No one questions that difficult economic and political decisions have to be made, or that many existing programs could be made to be much more effective. However, the answer isn’t to reduce government support for our children. And we can’t assume that the answer lies in private investment and philanthropy.
We must increase our investment in children from both public and private sources, and ensure the effective use of those funds. We must find ways to better distribute funding to organizations doing the best work to help children and families. And we must do more to invest in strengthening our communities and nonprofits and instill greater accountability for results.
In a recent workshop conducted by Venture Philanthropy Partners to focus on the funding crisis facing community-based organizations serving children, one comment in particular struck me. A public official challenged our position, stating that we are tilting at windmills until we realize that the situation for children requires a fundamental reframing of public policy for working poor families and families in poverty in America. The debate about serving the needs of America’s children must be reframed as a national priority that is every bit as important as fighting cancer, reforming healthcare, and protecting the environment.
At Venture Philanthropy Partners, we are privileged to work with some of the most creative and innovative human services organizations helping children here in the National Capital Region. As engaged investors, we’ve gained great appreciation for the leaders of these organizations, who have firsthand knowledge of the needs of the children and families in their communities and have developed workable approaches to address those needs. Yet their efforts are greatly hindered by the lack of helpful information and research to support their actions. And even more telling is the lack of support to encourage these leaders to mobilize the voices of the families and neighborhoods and to have their voices reach policymakers and funders.
America needs a common vision for our children’s future—for all of our children.
We have to find ways for those with the knowledge and experience in helping children to collectively raise their voices and ensure that it is heard loudly and clearly in Washington and across the country.
Our country has the will to bring about change. We have seen effective movements take on critical issues such as our environment, debilitating diseases, and smoking. These movements have been successful in capturing the public’s attention and then shaping public policy so as to make fundamental changes.
What is needed now is a movement to mobilize public support for shaping new policies that will bring about sweeping change for children. The time is now. Our children, our future, cannot wait.