My foray into children’s policy issues began in 1985, when, as a mother of young children, I joined the League of Women Voters (LWV). I chaired a study of street youth for the LWV Seattle, and, a year later, chaired a statewide study of services for children at risk. Back then, many people thought that runaways and homeless youth were just troublemakers. But I learned that most of them were out there because they were abused or neglected, in bad foster care homes or had parents with substance abuse or mental health issues.
I knew I wanted to help change the lives of these at-risk children and families. But by the time I decided to run for the legislature in 1998, not a whole lot had changed. There was a pervasive belief that the poor, the disadvantaged and the at-risk brought their troubles on themselves.
My first legislative session in Olympia I was assigned to be vice chair on the Children and Families Services Committee. I focused on issues like trying to ensure foster youth succeed in education. One of my biggest victories was passing a law that would allow foster children to stay in their same school when they were removed from the home. I had learned that every time a child changes schools, he or she loses, on average, four to six months in achievement. Foster children often bounce from home to home, but if they can have some stability in their education, it can make all the difference.
This victory did not come easily. No matter how many facts and statistics you throw in front of legislators, sometimes they still don’t understand. It takes a long time to change beliefs.
Today, as I chair the Early Learning & Human Services Committee, I see the change in beliefs. Many of my colleagues, Democrats and Republicans, Representatives and Senators, believe that people living in poverty need a hand — and the necessary support to get a job and raise a family.
Over the last 15 years, the most effective method of transforming beliefs has been the work of advocates. Advocates like Crosscut. Advocates put faces and names with issues. They tell a story, paint a picture, make it personal. Crosscut doesn’t just report on the news — it examines complicated issues from many sides, bringing unique perspectives to the table.
Over the past year, Crosscut’s series on "Kids@Risk" has been instrumental in the passage of the Youth Opportunities Act, which will seal most juvenile records at age 18, and of House Bill 1285, which will provide attorneys for foster children. These laws will transform lives, create new beginnings and build paths to success for many of Washington’s youth.
Thank you, Crosscut!