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Unifying the Cacophony of Calls for Children's Programs

It’s easy to say we should invest in children. But it’s harder to get a bunch of disparate, unwieldy groups together to speak with one voice as they clamor for funding. Think of the sound of cooped chickens clucking for, well, scraps.*

A new coalition was born last month to turn the cacaphony into a clarion call for help. The Children’s Leadership Council was launched in December representing 36 organizations, from the After School Alliance to Zero to Three.

“We’ve not attained anywhere near as much as we could if we used different strategies,” said William Bentley, president and chief executive for Voices forAmerica’s Children, which is a member of the leadership council. He made his remarks while introducing the coalition at the January meeting of the Invest in Kids Working Group at the Partnership forAmerica’s Economic Success.

The days of ineffective advocacy, Bentley said, have to end.

The coalition’s campaign is titled “Invest in Children, Strengthen America.” It lists five areas of focus: children’s health; early care and education; prevention, early intervention and treatment for vulnerable children; youth development; and economic support for children and families. New money for high-quality early childhood education – including $70 billion over five years for programs like Head Start and the Child Care Development Block Grant -- is part of the platform. (It remains to be seen how an investment of that kind would compare with what will eventually pass in the stimulus package, though parts of their platform are clearly calling for investments to come in over the long haul, a strategy we recommend over short-term infusions.)

The main point, Bentley said, is to prevent children from falling into poverty, especially in the midst of economic turbulence. With some economists warning that the jobless rate could hit 9 percent in the coming year, child poverty will become an even more pressing issue. There is no question that it's time for unified efforts like these to bring good ideas to the forefront of the conversation on children’s well being. (For a similar development, crossing generations, take a look at the Seniors4Kids group we wrote about last year.) We look forward to tracking the council's progress.

* Scraps, yes -- to many advocates, they can seem that way when dozens of organizations are competing for relatively small state and federal grants for afterschool programs or home-based infant care, etc. Depending on how states use the upcoming stimulus money, that metaphor may be due for an update. Or it may seem more apt than ever. We'll have to see what happens.