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Governor Deal (front and center) meets with community and political leaders from around the world on Jan. 14 at the Georgia Capitol. Polly McKinney, Voices' advocacy director, is to his right.

Although activity at the state Capitol was slowed down this week by snow and ice, by people trying to find new offices and learn new systems, Georgia government, nevertheless, moved forward. A Governor was inaugurated, Senators and Representatives were sworn in, and the new Administration’s plan for fiscal management was delivered. The Senate and House have made committee assignments and dropped a few bills, but overall, it was an especially slow week legislatively. That said, it was a wonderful week in terms of being reminded of the deepest meaning of what Voices is about: advocating on behalf of children.

This morning, a state Senator and I, met with a group of political and business leaders from around the world. As the group arrived at the South Entrance of the Capitol, it occurred to me what a treat it would be for them to have a photo taken with the Governor. Even though it seemed unlikely that Governor Deal would be available on such short notice, we checked with his office, and surprisingly, he was in and happy to come out to meet the guests. After the photo, the Governor asked if he might address the group and take a few questions. As you might guess, I said of course and please!

He spoke of foreign students his family had hosted, and took questions ranging in subject from snow to changing political parties. It was watching Governor Deal, so close, so candid and so kind, that it occurred to me that the most important thing to note this week was the fact that we are living and raising our children in an “Advocacy Friendly” country. As disheartened as we can all get by angry rhetoric, partisan politics, and last week’s tragedy in Tuscon, it is important to remember that few other countries have such amazing access to their government. To be able to call your lawmaker on the phone at the office or at home, to be able to stand in the halls of a capitol or even a grocery parking lot and respectfully present your point of view to an elected official without fear of reprisal is a gift and, because of how our country has grown, a right. That mutual trust, that peaceful transition of power, and that welcomed self-confidence is what allows each of us to be a voice for Georgia’s children. It is what allows us each to raise our children to become voices for the children of the future.

Polly

Polly McKinney
Advocacy Director
Voices for Georgia’s Children

Hello to the Voices blog community! I am Angela Orkin, and I have been with Voices since September of last year. As advocates for children, it is important that we remember how the world looks from the view of a child. So from time to time, I’ll post stories that friends of Voices have shared about something they remember from their childhood. I’ll kick things off with a story of my own.

My father’s mother, Mimi, taught me that you don’t have to accept the expectations others have for you. We all have ideas about what it means to be 80 years old, but Mimi seemed oblivious to these expectations. When Mimi was in her early 80’s, as a dutiful granddaughter, I called her to check on her. After a few minutes, she interrupted me and said “Thank you so much for calling. I need to go now so I can visit some old people in the nursing home.”

About two years before Mimi passed away, she was referred to hospice for end of life care. One afternoon, after about two weeks of hospice “service” we got a call from the worker. She said, “we would really like to help your mother, but every time we try to visit, she is out!” Mimi refused to stop living because everyone expected her to throw in the towel. By the way she lived, Mimi taught me that you don’t have to conform your behavior to other people’s expectations. I was fortunate to learn this lesson as a child, and I have carried it with me since.

Angela

Angela Orkin
Director of Development and Strategic Planning
Voices for Georgia’s Children

“Quality must be the policy.”  That is one of the five tenets of Voices’ policy framework for very young children.  If we are going to invest in young children to achieve positive outcomes down the road, we must be committed to quality.  Indeed, the research shows that quality child care for disadvantaged children is what yields both personal achievements and government savings in the long term.  Poor child care can in fact be harmful.

In the 2011 budget submitted to the General Assembly last week, the Governor increased the number of PreK students to be served but did not increase the lottery funds to pay for it.  The per student allocation declined by $130 to $4169/year.  That amount is down from $4,410 in 2007.  To help fund the new 2000 slots, a vital support service for disadvantaged kids was eliminated – resource coordinators.  Resource coordinators, paid for by special grants given under defined guidelines, help low income families find the services they need for themselves and their children, including health, parent education, and referrals for job skills training and openings.  By supporting the family, the resource coordinators increase the likelihood of family stability and commitment to education when formal schooling begins.  Think of them as the equivalent of the graduation coaches funded in our middle and high schools to help children at risk to stay in school.

 This is lottery money, not general fund revenues.  Constitutionally, lottery funds can be spent only for PreK and scholarships.  Lottery income has remained strong and we have over $600 million in unrestricted reserves.  We can fund the resource coordinators and the additional students as well as help providers pay the full costs of the classroom.  There is no reason to shortchange this program.  Let’s keep quality in Georgia PreK!

Pat

Voices for Georgia’s Children was showcased in the Savannah Morning News recently.  The article quotes Executive Director Pat Willis, Government Affairs & Advocacy Director Mindy Binderman and incoming boardmember Becky Cheatham.

Becky is the Executive Director of the St. Joseph’s/Candler Hospital Foundation based in Savannah.  She was also named a 2009 Big Voice for Children Award honoree.  Becky is working to develop new partnerships between Voices and the Junior League of Savannah, just one of dozens of communities around the state where Voices has contacts and coalition partners.

Voices is always working with media outlets all over Georgia to showcase new partners and innovative programs.  If you know an individual, an agency or an organization that you think deserves some media attention, let us know!  As advocates, we want to help you get your story told to the widest audience possible.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Edward McNally-Voices for Georgia’s Children

Budget briefings will be held in Room 341 of the Capitol all week.  The following are briefings of specific interest to children’s advocates:

 Tuesday 1/19/10

1:05 pm  Governor Perdue speaks

1:30 pm Economic Outlook and Revenue Estimating, Dr. Kenneth Heaghney, State Fiscal Economist

2 PM  Department of Revenue, Bart Craham, Commissioner

Wed. 1/20/10

10:30 am  Juvenile Justice, Albert Murray, Commissioner

1 pm Education, Kathy Cox, State Superintendent

Thursday, 1/21/10

9 am  Human Services, B.J. Walker, Commissioner

10 am Community Health, Dr. Rhonda Medows, Commissioner

11 am  Behavioral Health, Frank Shelp, Commissioner

You can watch the briefings from the comfort of your home or office by clicking http://www.legis.state.ga.us/legis/2009_10/house/Committees/GLN/boardcastIndex.htm

“The cell was dark inside and had a small, square window. It was the kind of set-up you saw in a mental institution, not a school.”

I attended a meeting earlier this week, one of many in fact. That alone is nothing out of the ordinary for me, nor is it alone anything worthy of a blog post. What made this meeting different were two of the attendees – parents of a then 13-year-old child who hung himself while in a seclusion room in a Georgia public school. Several days later as I try to write about it, the agony in that mother’s voice, still echoes in my head. It’s been more than five years since Jonathan King’s death and it is still painful to hear his mother speak of her loss. Maybe even more painful is the fact that this practice of seclusion continues to this day in Georgia’s schools. Fortunately that may be about to change.

The Georgia Department of Education is in the process of promulgating a new rule that protects all students from seclusion and restraint and public input is needed. There are many ways to take action and to ensure Georgia’s children are safe:

Every child has a right to feel safe in school. Take action today to help enforce that right.

beth

Is there a special responsibility in being the first? Don’t we owe it to our children to show them that it is not necessarily the first one out of the starting gate but, instead the runner who takes the biggest strides that wins the race?

As I observed members of the Women’s Legislative Caucus at their first meeting of the session today, I found myself contemplating the special roles and burdens of being the first at something while also celebrating the possibilities inherent in breaking new ground. It was exciting to be in the room as a bi-partisan group of female senators and representatives congratulated Representative Jan Jones on her election as Speaker Pro Tem! And, it was gratifying to hear Representative Jones speak not only about her own plans but to also listen to her acknowledge that she hopes to set a pace for other women to follow.

In 1993, Georgia set the pace for pre-K programs around the country by establishing our universal lottery funded pre-K program, and we still lead the nation in total enrollment of four-year olds. Yet, we have more families who wish to enroll their children in Pre-K than we have slots available. And, other states have taking deeper strides to help the most at-risk young children by extending programs to three-year olds and targeting specific resources for maximum impact on state outcomes.

Wouldn’t it be exciting to celebrate another first during the new Speaker Pro Tem’s term and add enough Pre-K slots to eliminate the waiting list?

The Governor will give his last “State of the State” address today at 11 am. Watch it live on http://www.gpb.org.

I’ve never hesitated to steal good ideas from other advocates.

Take blogging for instance.

Lots of advocates suffer from some form of bloggaphobia; a not always rational Fear of Blogging.  Either they’re afraid of comments by strangers, or how their fellow colleagues will react to their opinions or their writing ability, or just afraid to dip their toe in and post anything at all.

This isn’t true for the staff at Advocates for Youth based in Washington, DC. Established in 1980 as the Center for Population Options, Advocates for Youth champions efforts to help young people make informed and responsible decisions about their reproductive and sexual health.

Advocates for Youth boasts not one, not two, but five separate blogs, all of which are updated regularly.

http://www.advocatesforyouth.org

I prefer blogs with multiple links or embedded video.  Here at Voices, we are looking for videos that tell stories about children in need and how children benefit when advocates are successful on their behalf.  If you know of sources for these stories, please send them our way.

In the meantime, here’s a great source for blogging tips to get you started: Blog Tips, Blogging for Nonprofits

http://www.blogtips.org/

And an easy-to-follow Top 10 Tips

http://www.rss-specifications.com/10-tips-for-bloggers.htm

Hope to get a link to your next post soon.

Edward McNally

Voices for Georgia’s Children

Newly elected Speaker David Ralston has set a collaborative and optimistic new tone in assuming leadership of the Georgia House of Representatives. We look forward to working with the Speaker on many issues. He, like us, is focused first and foremost, on the State’s budget situation. At the Georgia Chamber of Commerce’s annual Eggs and Issues breakfast today, Speaker Ralston stated that the dire budget situation presents legislators with an opportunity to restructure government and reexamine what the core functions of state government should be.

Focusing on the big picture and not just the crisis at hand is the right idea. But, I hope this doesn’t become only an exercise about shrinking government. Let’s focus on both the business capital and the vital human capital that will be necessary to position Georgia for a prosperous future. Of course, we should evaluate efficiencies and determine where there are too many entities with tiny pieces of programs that would be better managed by consolidation.  We should also continue funding and perhaps even bolster programs that work. By investing programs that have been proven to provide better outcomes for our children, we will create the potential for the renewed prosperity of our state.

As they look towards the future, legislators should ensure that government works better and more transparently for the citizens it serves.  Let’s ensure that all agencies- both in government and the private sector- that serve children, for example, actually have a place to discuss sharing agendas, programs, and resources.  

Who knows? This may even be the time to study the successes that other states have had with  Children’s Cabinets and institute something similar here in Georgia.

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