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COMMENTARY: Building power for California’s kids

SAN FRANCISCO BAY VIEW — Whether you ask a parent, a teacher or even a college student like me, creating a better world for kids is the top priority.

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Eliza Brooks

By Eliza Brooks

Whether you ask a parent, a teacher or even a college student like me, creating a better world for kids is the top priority. If that’s the case, then why aren’t Pro-Kid values reflected in California’s public policy? A recent study ranked California 36th out of 50 states in children’s wellbeing. Being pro-kid means more than just not being anti-kid, it means embracing the idea that children need to be supported across all sectors to live a safe, happy and healthy childhood.

Yet in the state of California, the metrics for crucial indicators of child well-being are far lower than they should be, especially when broken down by race. Children of color face systemic barriers including inequitable school discipline policies like suspensions for willful defiance, a catch-all term used to justify disciplinary action for minor misconduct, and poor access to healthcare due a lack of coordination within the system.

For example, suspensions for willful defiance disproportionately impact students of color. In 2013, Black students were more than four times as likely to be suspended as White students, even when accused of similar behavior. These students then face ripple consequences: Students who have been expelled or suspended are six times more likely to repeat a grade, five times more likely to drop-out of high school, and three times more likely to have contact with the juvenile justice system.

Earlier this year, The Children’s Movement came together to take a stand against disproportionate punishments and supported Senate Bill 607 (Skinner), which would limit suspensions for willful defiance. The letter outlined the ramifications of suspensions for willful defiance and was signed by over 120 organizations across the state of California, including Children Now, ABEN (A Black Education Network), the Children’s Defense Fund and Berkeley Organizing Congregations for Action. This letter sent a powerful message to lawmakers, who quickly signed the bill into law in May 2018.

Why aren’t Pro-Kid values reflected in California’s public policy? A recent study ranked California 36th out of 50 states in children’s wellbeing.

On the health side, while almost 5.5 million children in California are covered by Medi-Cal, there are not enough doctors to ensure that everyone is getting quality preventive care. In 2015, there were only 39 doctors who accept Medi-Cal for every 100,000 patients, a number well below the state standard of 50 (Report Card). In fact, California ranks among the bottom two states for Medicaid provider rates.

This lack of coordination means that while quality healthcare is attainable for some kids, it is not accessible to all kids. Research shows that this lack of access leads to emergency room visits for chronic conditions, like asthma. These high rates of ER usage often fall along racial lines. For example, Black children are eight times more likely than children who are Asian-Pacific Islander to visit the ER for asthma related complications.

As a result of Children Now advocacy efforts, the 2018-2019 state budget allotted $1 billion to practitioner reimbursement programs that will expand the availability of medical and dental services for children covered by Medi-cal.

Inadequate health and education resources have a destructive impact on child development and socioemotional well-being. And the result of slow-moving policy processes and fractured advocacy efforts is plain and simple: California’s kids of color are not receiving the resources they need to thrive.

So what can we do about it? The Children’s Movement has an answer: By connecting all of the different community groups, businesses, nonprofits, education and health groups that care so deeply about kids, we can create a power base that can be leveraged to promote pro-kid policies statewide.

The result of slow-moving policy processes and fractured advocacy efforts is plain and simple: California’s kids of color are not receiving the resources they need to thrive.

The Children’s Movement currently connects 2,700 businesses, organizations and nonprofits to create an unprecedented pro-kid power base. These groups can opt to sign on to advocacy letters, such as the willful defiance letter, through The Children’s Movement that are sent directly to state senators and assembly members.

Members of the Movement range from local Boys & Girls Clubs, to LGBTQ groups, to NAACP chapters to immigrant rights centers. And while these diverse groups may have differing agendas, they can come together on one crucial issue: kids.

Every day we don’t engage in advocacy is a crucial day for a child lacking resources. We urge your groups to sign on to The Children’s Movement at https://www.childrennow.org/themovement/. Rather than losing hope, we must remember that our voices are the most powerful tool in the fight for the rights and the equitable distribution of resources for our children, our families and our communities.

Eliza Brooks, a political science major at UC Berkeley and a fellow for the Children’s Movement of California, can be reached at EBrooks@childrennow.org. She also works with the Black Recruitment and Retention Center at UC Berkeley, a Black student-run organization founded in 1983.

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Bay View.

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