Children's Voice Jan/Feb 2008

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About Children's Voice

One on One
Questions and Answers with CWLA Staff

John Sciamanna, Codirector, Government Affairs

What are the hot topics this year on Capitol Hill that will affect child welfare?

One of the key focuses is going to be promoting the idea of a White House Conference on Children and Youth. This is something established by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1909, and the last conference was held in 1970. The first several actually focused specifically on child welfare issues. CWLA had its birth from that first White House conference, so we want to revive this.

We would hope that any kind of finance or reform effort this Congress looks at includes a kinship care provision. Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) announced legislation on this issue in 2004 at our National Conference. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) joined her; now it's a bipartisan bill in both Houses, and we continue to make progress in gaining support. Hopefully we will elevate it beyond just getting it cosponsored to get real movement on the legislation.

And of course there are other issues getting more and more attention-as always the issue of how we finance child welfare and the need to fix how we finance the system, to more adequately address the needs of the kids in out-of-home care, and to address some of the other areas such as prevention and intervention services. There has also been a great deal of attention over the issue of youth aging out and what we can better do to support them.

How does CWLA plan to address these issues?

We're calling on candidates for president to endorse the idea of a White House Conference on Children and Youth and address the issue of child welfare. We will be working on and promoting legislation enabling the conference, including circulating our ideas about what the legislation should look like and what the issues would be and how they would be addressed.

On the issue of kinship care, we are working to extend our reach. We are already working with other key groups, like Generations United and the Children's Defense Fund. We are trying to expand what is a growing coalition of organizations supporting kinship care.

Last year, we joined with a broad coalition of groups called the Partnership to Protect Children and Strengthen Families to sign onto a document that outlines some broad, important principles in terms of child welfare financing, fixing some of the problems with the current eligibility for the Title IV-E system, and opening that up to important intervention and prevention services. In 2008, we'll continue to work together and expand the number of organizations that are joining with us.

How can individuals advocate on behalf of these issues outside Washington?

One of the major things is coming to CWLA's Advocacy Day 2008 in Washington, DC, our single biggest event of the year. It's a chance to really have an impact. Some people feel they can't lobby because they work for foundations or other groups, but they can still meet with their Senators and Representatives, or with congressional staff. Some people get discouraged if they don't meet their particular member of Congress, but it's equally critical to establish strong relationships with the key staff.

The next easiest thing to do is go to CWLA's website and sign up for the Children's Monitor e-newsletter we publish every Monday. It gives you the latest news on what's going on in Washington in child welfare and children's issues.

We also issue legislative email alerts - when there's a key vote or key time of action, you would get an automatic email from us with instructions and tools, such as sending a letter or finding a member of Congress and other key players. And of course, our website under the advocacy page has all kinds of information you can use to educate yourself and members of Congress on the issues.

We've been working to build on year-round advocacy. In addition to Advocacy Day, we have more meetings planned with our members back in their districts, as well as conference calls and discussions to continue putting out more information on strategies about ways people can influence their members of Congress.

What are important questions to ask the presidential candidates concerning children and families?

Our proposal for another White House Conference on Children and Youth is certainly a way candidates can embrace the issue and demonstrate their concern about child welfare and child abuse and neglect. Everybody talks about children, and there are critical issues around health care and education, for example, but we want to get a focus on the issue of child abuse and neglect and what we can do for the 500,000 kids in foster care.

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