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Kentucky United Methodists were among hundreds who gathered in Frankfort to speak up on issues that impact children. The seventh annual Children’s Advocacy Day at the Capitol was February 17, 2011.
A rally outside the Capitol highlighted three areas from the Blueprint for Kentucky’s Children, a policy agenda promoted by children’s advocates across Kentucky. The emphasis for 2011 was on Fair Deal for Working Parents (payday loans), Safe and Healthy Families (increasing child wellness), and Fair Opportunity for Every Child (increasing high school graduation rates).
In addition to the adult speakers, children and teenagers spoke, sang, cheered, and stepped for the crowd. Participants included the Harlan County High School Choir, North Oldham High School cheerleaders, and the Indian Trail Elementary (Jefferson County) Steppers. Marian McClure Taylor of the Kentucky Council of Churches shared talking points about payday loans. Governor Steve Beshear also addressed the rally.
Kentucky ranks among the bottom ten states in child well-being. It is number one in the nation in the number of child deaths as a result of abuse and neglect.
Melinda Ryles-Smith, Vice President for Development for the Kentucky United Methodist Homes for Children and Youth, says this second statistic is of particular concern to her and the Children’s Homes.
Ms. Ryles-Smith has been involved with Children’s Advocacy Day since its first year. She coordinates United Methodist participants and updates the United Methodist Women on issues.
Prior to the rally, United Methodist Women (UMW) and representatives from the Kentucky United Methodist Homes for Children & Youth met at St. Paul UMC (Frankfort District) to learn about some of the issues. These include the need to adequately fund child welfare services; House Bill 441, which would create a child fatality panel to look at systemic issues related to child abuse; and House Bill 449, which addresses the need for standards for alternative school programs.
Kentucky Conference UMW is one of many organizations that help sponsor the Children’s Advocacy Day. The sponsorship is a good fit because, said Conference UMW Mission Coordinator for Social Action Sarah Williams, “one of our important goals is to improve life for children.”
“We feel that we should stand up for the laws and the funding which will positively impact the lives of children and families.”
After the rally, a number of people crossed the street to visit with legislators and advocate for the children’s issues they supported.
Kentucky Youth Advocates spearheads Children’s Advocacy Day. The event began in 2004 when, according to Ms. Ryles-Smith, “several children’s advocacy groups realized that the at-risk families and children we serve need people to advocate for them so that their needs become a priority at the legislative level.”
For those unable to attend the February 17th event who still want to advocate for Kentucky’s children and youth, Ms. Ryles-Smith recommends that they find the names and contact information for the legislators in their district. That information is available at www.lrc.ky.gov. Then, she said, “Call your legislator, introduce yourself, and let them know that you, one of their constituents, want them to make improvements to the social welfare system to improve the well-being of Kentucky children.”
Local UMW units throughout the Conference are helping to improve the quality of children’s lives. Ms. Williams shared some ideas.
“Some local units are part of a backpack program which provides food for a child to take home, some tutor after school, some work in the schools by listening to children read, some assist families in navigating the legal system, some work with the various United Methodist Community Centers, and some raise money for special after school programs.”