Monday, July 28, 2014

It Takes a Village

It takes a whole village to raise a child, but...

it begins with a connection.  This week marked the release of the Annie E. Casey Foundation sponsored 2014 Kids Count Data Book, highlighting state-by-state progress, or lack thereof, around issues affecting children like education, health, poverty and safety. Thanks to our friends and colleagues at the Children's Trust of South Carolina, the agency responsible for South Carolina's data release, we are able to consider the well-being of children on a state and county level. South Carolina ranks 45th in the country for overall child well-being, which reflects very little progress in a positive direction. More than a quarter of a million children live in poverty, which contributes to the state's overall stagnation around health, education and the economy. The foundation is weak and even when we consider "bright spots" like teen birth rates (which have fallen by 47% over the past two decades), we realize just how fragile progress remains. 

The fragility of progress, and our often short attention spans, places unique responsibility on all of us - from youth-serving professionals and advocates to parents, faith leaders and government officials. I truly believe that most people care about children and their families, especially those who are in poverty, sick or marginalized in some other capacity. So, if most people care, then why do we continue to see such negative social and economic outcomes? Well, of course the answer is complicated, but I strongly believe the answer at least begins with our ability to genuinely engage and connect with each other.

Staff members from the South Carolina Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy were able to join the Children's Trust of South Carolina during a couple of media activities this past week and, as I am sure happens every year, the media wanted to know "now what?"  We continue to have these data releases -notably, in the near future, the SC Campaign will work with state partners to produce data specific to teen births and the connection to other social issues. But, how will we use this data to inform effective strategies, to collaborate (like the Children's Trust of SC and the SC Campaign) and to CONNECT with the community at large?  How will we remind each other that we are ALL connected and impacted when a child grows up in poverty, when a child is consistently behind academically, when a young person becomes a parent, or when a family goes without healthcare? We should also consider the connections and overlaps between these issues so that strategies for improvement are comprehensive and reflect all of the factors that contribute to poverty, educational attainment, and health, etc.

Of course we cannot provide all of the answers with one data release or via a blog. But we can engage each other through community forums, volunteer efforts, mentoring and individual support for causes that effectively reach the homeless, the working poor, young parents, and so many others who often just need a stronger foundation from which to progress. 

Let's be that village we so often reference in our speeches and conference themes. Let's also remember this great African proverb is only a clich√© if we fail to make the connections necessary to genuinely affect change.
*It takes a whole village to raise a child - Igbo and Yoruba (Nigeria) Proverb

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