The 10th Children’s Advocacy Day saw hundreds of children’s champions invade Frankfort today to join voices in calling for our leaders to make Kentucky the best place in America to be young. You could not be in the Rotunda for the 10AM Rally or there for the 1PM KIDS COUNT briefing and award ceremony and not sense the power of that collective force. I am so thankful for the many partners and sponsors that brought people today and met with their legislators. The day would not be possible without you!
I was animated by the young people’s roles in the day; touched deeply by stories from folks affected by the devastating cuts in child care and kinship care; and, emboldened by the potential of fundamental reforms in youth justice and real opportunities to tackle the tragedy of abuse and neglect. And whow, oh whow, Governor Beshear made a public commitment to look hard at the issue of restoring child care assistance in the next two year budget! That alone could have made this a banner day for Kentucky’s kids.
But along with those more emotive moments, I was challenged intellectually by the portion of the KIDS COUNT briefing and award ceremony during which time we honored several legislators as well as the Governor and First Lady for their respective roles in moving the needle for kids over the years. We didn’t so much celebrate a particular bill as we reflected on particular approaches, which could be called the “cardinal virtues” for policy change.
As an example, when you think about both the graduated driver’s license and the high school graduation bill, persistence was a cardinal virtue that Representative Burch carried in the former issue and the First Lady and Representative Greer carried in the latter. Both were long grinds, marked by defeat after defeat after defeat. And then came victory. Neither of these were quick and both show that persistence and stamina just might carry the day.
When it came to that high school graduation bill, Senator Givens added the quality of innovation as he crafted a novel approach in which local school districts made the decision to raise the dropout age to 18 until a critical max was reached and then it became the law of the Commonwealth. That same spirit of innovation has been brought by the Governor around children’s health by taking discrete but creatively calibrated steps to make it an easier process for kids to enroll in health coverage.
As we think about another key area – strengthening protections around child fatalities from abuse and neglect – an army of legislators, including … but not limited to … Senator Denton and Representatives Benvenuti, Lee, Wayne, Westrom Wuchner, and Jenkins used an array of strategies including persistence and collaborating as unlikely allies. The result? We have an increasingly strong process to review fatalities and we are looking at smart preventive measures around protecting kids from the ravages of abuse.
And then there is a final cardinal virtue we applauded – and that can be seen in how Representatives Overly and Wuchner (Have I mentioned unlikely allies?) came together and flat-out caught lightning in a bottle. That lightning was around human trafficking. They saw the momentum and worked hard to ensure the bill passed and because of that, young people caught in that horrific situation are now supported rather than locked up. Senator Tilley and Representative Westerfield also helped that important human trafficking legislation be heard and pass their respective committees.
It is altogether fitting and proper to honor the state leaders who have made a difference for kids. We all do too much complaining about political leaders and too little commending. But maybe it is even more important to learn from them. Here’s to hoping that those cardinal virtues of persistence, innovation, unlikely allies and snatching lightning in a bottle abound – maybe even explode – during the 2014 General Assembly. Who knows? With a commitment by more and more leaders to those cardinal virtues, Kentucky just may be on its way to becoming the best place in America to be young!
Call the Governor. Call your State Senator. Call your State Representative. And ask them – “Which issue are going to tackle using these cardinal virtues to make a real difference for Kentucky’s kids?” And tell them you are going to grade their performance at the polls this fall!