Kissing babies might not be the campaign-trail custom it once was, but any politician who wishes to extend his or her career will of course tell you that every child matters.
But getting those elected leaders to do what's right for every child can be another matter altogether.
That's the gist of what was said up at the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Home Center last Thursday during the kickoff celebration of the state chapter of Every Child Matters and its voter education campaign. Every Child Matters is an organization devoted to making children's issues a higher political priority.
"I've been focused on kids' issues all my political career, but it takes on even more significance as a parent," said Gov. Gary Locke, who, at age 54, finds himself the father of two young children with a third one expected later this year. Children can't vote and therefore it is left to adults to advance children's issues, Locke said, but too often their parents aren't registered to vote or don't bother going to the polls. For that reason, he said, increasing voter turnout couldn't help but improve the lives of young people.
"We need that clout," the two-term governor said. "We need to register and mobilize voters."
Every Child Matters points to unmet, critical needs. Of the approximately 1.5 million residents of this state under the age of 18, about 197,000 live in poverty and 186,000 have no health insurance. About 77 percent of children in single-parent households have a parent who works outside the home, which adds to the strain on child-care programs.
The data go on and on. Too many kids aren't getting immunized, aren't getting quality pre-school and daycare, aren't engaged in after-school activities.
As a non-profit, non-partisan 501(c)(3) organization, Every Child Matters does not endorse candidates, initiatives or legislation. But, as the governor noted, when more people vote, issues dear to groups like Every Child Matters tend to be advanced.
Polling commissioned by Every Child Matters indicates that children's issues are a high priority with the state electorate. Most responded that neither the U.S. Congress nor the Washington Legislature are adequately addressing the needs of working families with children.
Gil Kerlikowske, Seattle's police chief, told the assembly that there is something fundamentally the matter with a system that will not guarantee a kid a slot in a good school and a good after-school program, but will assure that youngster that we have a place for him in prison should he run afoul of the law.
"If you make smart investments in kids early on" it pays big dividends in reduced public safety costs down the road, the chief said before the press conference. "If you look at what it costs to incarcerate a person vs. an after-school program, it's a real no-brainer."
Pediatrician Dr. Jill Sells said it's time to put our resources where our rhetoric is.
"We must connect what we want with what we do," she said. "As any child can tell you, it's what you do that matters."--Ed.
Every Child Matters can be reached at 324-0340 or online at www.everychildmatters.org.