Tell us about your current role and your professional background.
I am lucky to be in my 14th year of working as a child advocate at Voices for Virginia’s Children, now as Executive Director. My previous experience working at YWCA of Greater Richmond, an organization that was actively involved in United Way, provided a wonderful foundation for working in Richmond’s nonprofit community. In my years at Voices, I have served as a policy analyst and policy director, learning the ins and outs of speaking up for children at the General Assembly and with different governors and their administrations. I have also learned a great deal about the needs of children, families and service providers by specializing in the area of children’s mental health policy.
What is Voices for Virginia’s Children’s mission?
The mission of Voices for Virginia’s Children is to champion public policies that improve the lives of Virginia’s 1.9 million children. We are the only multi-issue, statewide child advocacy organization in the commonwealth. Nonprofit and nonpartisan, we are the go-to resource for data and expertise on child well-being.
How does health care coverage for children impact student success, particularly in the early years? How does health care coverage for parents/families impact student success?
Having access to appropriate, high-quality health care is vital for the well-being of children and their families – and that requires health insurance. Children are more likely to have a healthy start in life if their mothers have access to regular prenatal care. Research shows that when parents have health insurance, they are more likely to get their kids covered and take them to the doctor. Coverage for kids starting at birth allows for developmentally appropriate well-child visits and sick care. With coverage, any developmental delays can be identified early and addressed to maximize a child’s potential, and any chronic health issues can be diagnosed and managed so that they are less likely to interfere with school readiness and participation.
We hear a lot about Medicaid expansion and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) at the federal level. How will decisions made at the federal and state level on these programs affect children in our region?
Decisions made in Congress have a huge impact on the children and families in our region. Medicaid and CHIP are jointly funded by the federal and state governments, and decisions made at both levels affect which kids gets coverage and what type of services they can access. Statewide, one-quarter of all children are covered by these programs; in Richmond and Petersburg, 55 percent or more have Medicaid or CHIP. Due to a huge outcry from governors, advocates and families, Congress recently extended CHIP funding for another ten years. Efforts to cap Medicaid spending at the federal level, still on the horizon, would likely result in cuts to coverage for Virginia’s kids.
What do you think is the biggest value United Way brings to this issue?
As a funder and thought leader in our area, United Way is helping our community realize the importance of looking at children’s needs holistically when we consider school readiness. By measuring health insurance coverage for young children as one of its indicators of kindergarten preparedness, United Way is supporting a community-level focus on the importance of health care. And through its program support, it is ensuring that more families have help connecting to medical homes and the developmental services their children may need.
What are some steps individuals can take to support health care coverage for young children and their parents?
Providers who work directly with families in our community should encourage parents and other caregivers to enroll their children in health insurance and make sure their kids receive timely and appropriate health care. Having an ongoing relationship with a trusted pediatrician or pediatric practice can greatly improve children’s health and their parents’ knowledge of child development.
It’s important for all of us to recognize we can use our voices to speak up for the needs of children. We can register to vote and take time to research candidates’ positions as they relate to kids before the next election. Once policymakers are elected, we must communicate with them about why children’s issues are important to us.