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U.S Depts of Education and Health Endorse Help Me Grow System Model

Twenty years ago, a model for building a comprehensive, statewide, coordinated system for connecting at-risk kids and families to services and resources was piloted in Connecticut. That model was called Help Me Grow, and it has since been tested, refined, and replicated across 28 states nationwide under the amazing leadership of the Help Me Grow National Center. In 2010, Washington State became the 8th state affiliate for the Help Me Grow model and WithinReach was appointed as the official state affiliate and organizing lead.

Last month, the success of the HMG model was highlighted in a new joint policy statement released by the U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services. The statement includes a recommendation for states to adopt a centralized intake, screening and referral process, specifically naming the Help Me Grow® system model.

The report notes that Help Me Grow is a “non-federal system that assists states in identifying children at risk for developmental and behavioral concerns and then helps families find community-based programs and services. HMG is a system that helps to build collaboration across sectors, including health care, early care and education, and family support.”

Since becoming an affiliate, WithinReach has acted as the central access point for families, expanding our resource directory, service delivery and collection of data that informs systems change. As the other model components hinge upon a strong central access point, this lays a critical foundation for future provider and community outreach efforts.

Our very first Help Me Grow family was Ginelle and Chloe. Navigating through complex social and health systems while trying to find the resources you and your family need to be healthy is overwhelming. The story of our work together with Ginelle to ensure Chloe received all of the care she needed is highlighted in our Help Me Grow program video.

The Help Me Grow model is a simple solution that builds on existing resources. Through comprehensive physician and community outreach and centralized information and referral centers, families are linked with needed programs and services. Ongoing data collection and analysis helps identify gaps in and barriers to the system.

Through participation in regional and statewide partnerships, WithinReach has raised visibility of this valuable model and cultivated interest in family-centered resource connection. As grants and projects permit, Washington partners (such as the State Departments of Health and Early Learning, Washington State Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and regional early learning coalitions) work to promote developmental screening, quality referral processes, and meaningful cross-sector coordination. As noted in the report, a cross-sector model helps systems to “maximize service delivery and resources, ensure that families get needed services, and ultimately improve outcomes to change the developmental trajectory of vulnerable infants and toddlers.”

We are heartened by the endorsement of U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services for other states to adopt the Help Me Grow model because we’ve seen it do great things for kids in Washington. Every family deserves access to the right resources when they need them. To learn more about Help Me Grow in Washington, visit parenthelp123.org. Or, learn more about the Help Me Grow National Center.

Tags: Help Me Grow   US Department of Education   US Department of Health   Washington state   

2016 Legislative Summary

Written by Carrie Glover, Senior Policy Manager

At about 11:00pm on March 29th the 2016 legislative session was adjourned. This year was a ‘short session’ that was mostly focused on writing a supplemental budget.

WithinReach did very well this session, including securing funding for an immunization validation tool and a school module within the Immunization Information System (IIS), which was our top priority going into 2016.  It was a great year of working with our partners in Olympia and we made real progress in breaking down barriers that prevent families from living healthy lives.

We also supported some additional issues as they emerged through session, and those also fared very well.  Below is a summary of the outcomes of our top priorities as well as other issues we supported this session that had successful outcomes.

Here is a brief summary of where we landed in the budget for our priorities:

Immunization Validation Tool & School Module within the IIS (budget only)

  • Budget ask: $511,000>
  • Final Amount funded: $511,000

Developmental and Autism Screenings for Medicaid (budget only)

  • Budget ask: Maintain current funding
  • Outcome: No cuts were made to the screenings

HB 1295: Breakfast After the Bell (budget and bill)

  • Bill: Require all high needs schools to offer breakfast after the bell
  • Budget ask: $2.692 million for startup grants
  • Outcome: Unfortunately the Breakfast After the Bell legislation did not pass this year.  Since the bill didn’t pass, the startup grants also were not funded in the final budget

Healthiest Next Generation (budget only)

  • Budget ask: fund staff positions at OSPI & DEL for this initiative
  • Outcome: Unfortunately this was not funded in the final budget

Other issues we supported that were successful:

HB 2877: Expanding SNAP Distribution dates

  • Bill: Expand the distribution dates for SNAP beneficiaries from the 1st through 10th of the month to the 1st through the 20th of the month
  • Budget ask: funding needed to implement the system change
  • Outcome: The bill passed with a great deal of support and $300,000 in funding was included for implementation in the final budget 

HB 2439: Mental health services for children and youth

  • Bill: Increasing access to adequate and appropriate mental health services for children and youth including establishing a workgroup to identify barriers in accessing mental health services, report on the status of access to services, expand the Partnership Access Line (PAL), and require coverage for annual depression screenings according to the Bright Future guidelines
  • Budget ask: funding needed for implementation of the workgroup, inventory of services, expansion of the PAL line, and the depression screenings.
  • Outcome: The bill passed, though with only the workgroup and inventory of services.  The PAL line was funded in the final budget even though it wasn’t included in the final bill.  Unfortunately the depression screenings weren’t funded or included in the bill.

SB 5143: Childhood Immunization Resources

  • Bill: Requires DOH to develop resources for expecting parents about recommended childhood immunizations.
  • Outcome: This bill passed with a great deal of support and some of our WithinReach staff were able to be at the bill signing with Governor Inslee.

 

Learn more about the guiding principles of our policy work.

 

 

Tags: Breakfast After the Bell   Developmental Screening   food stamps   immunizations   SNAP   vaccines      Washington state   

Advocating for healthy futures

As many people know, 2015 was a year filled with unique challenges for our state legislature.  There were a lot of difficult decisions that had to be made and important programs that needed to be funded, and at the same time there wasn’t a lot of consensus on how to address these issues.  This resulted in the longest legislative session in Washington State history (178 days) and a near-shutdown of our state government.  Ultimately the legislature did pass a $38.2 billion two-year operating budget that included major investments in education and transportation.

That’s the news that made the headlines.

But in that budget, there were also a lot of unsung wins for Washington families.  During the 2015 legislative session, WithinReach saw incredible support for our legislative priorities and some very exciting wins:

Vaccine Coverage for the Children’s Health Program – In order to make progress toward achieving Washington’s immunization goal rate of 80%, we need to ensure universal access to vaccines.  The funding needed to provide full vaccine coverage for kids on the Washington Apple Health–Children’s Health Program was included in the final 2015-17 operating budget ($2.343mil total).

Universal Developmental Screening for All Children (SB 5317) – The Bright Futures guidelines issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends universal screening of children for autism and developmental conditions.  Senate Bill 5317 sought to bring equity to coverage of developmental screening by requiring full coverage of these screenings for kids on Apple Health. HB5317 passed the legislature, has been signed by Governor Inslee, and received full funding in the final 2015-17 operating budget ($1.422mil total). Children on Apple Health will receive coverage for developmental and autism screenings starting on January 1, 2016. 

Apple Health for Kids Hotline Funding & Maintaining a Robust Navigator Program – Buying insurance can be difficult and both the Apple Health for Kids Hotline and the Navigator Program under the Health Benefit Exchange are vital tools that provide the assistance families often need when applying for health care coverage.  Both programs received ongoing funding in the final 2015-17 operating budget and therefore will be able to continue to provide much needed support to individuals and families in Washington.

At WithinReach, we believe that healthy, resilient families make strong communities.  Driven by the goal of breaking down barriers that prevent families from living healthy lives, WithinReach advocates for public policy and budget matters that directly advance our mission and relate to our five key focus areas: breastfeeding, health care access, child development, immunizations, and food access.

We are actively working on preparing for the 2016 legislative session and are excited to keep working public policies that elevate the issues that will improve health outcomes for Washington families.  More to come as we get closer to 2016, but for now you can come and support our policy efforts by joining us at the first annual Big Wigs & Swigs event!

 

Tags: Advocacy   Big Wigs & Swigs   families   fundraiser   Healthy Futures   legislative   public policies   stronger communities   WithinReach Event   

2015 Legislative Session Summary

Last Friday the legislature finally adjourned the 2015 legislative session. At WithinReach, we believe that healthy, resilient families make strong communities and we have been working hard in Olympia throughout the session to break down barriers that prevent Washington families from getting the support they need to be healthy. Even though it was a very long legislative session (the longest in Washington State history), we ultimately emerged with some incredible successes for Washington families!

Universal Developmental Screening for All Children (SB 5317) – The Bright Futures guidelines issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends universal screening of children for autism and developmental conditions. The full range of screenings is currently required to be covered for kids on private insurance, but kids on Washington Apple Health did not have this guarantee. Senate Bill 5317 sought to bring equity to this issue by requiring full coverage of these screening for kids on Apple Health. We are happy to share that the bill passed the legislature, has been signed by Governor Inslee, and received full funding in the final 2015-17 operating budget ($1.422mil total). Children on Apple Health will receive coverage for developmental and autism screenings starting on January 1, 2016.

Apple Health for Kids Hotline Funding & Maintaining a Robust Navigator Program – Buying insurance can be difficult and both the Apple Health for Kids Hotline and the Navigator Program under the Health Benefit Exchange are vital tools that provide the assistance families often need when applying for health care coverage. We are happy to share that both programs received ongoing funding in the final 2015-17 operating budget and therefore will be able to continue to provide much needed support to individuals and families in Washington.

Vaccine Coverage for the Children’s Health Program – In order to make progress toward achieving Washington’s immunization goal rate of 80%, we need to ensure universal access to vaccines. We are happy to share that the funding needed to provide full vaccine coverage for kids on the Washington Apple Health – Children’s Health Program was included in the final 2015-17 operating budget ($2.343mil total).

Thank you to everyone who used your voice to support these critical issues! We could not have done it without you.

Connect With Us: Sign up for our e-news list to join a network of people committed to connecting families with health and food resources! Choose action alerts on – Immunization, Breastfeeding, Child Development, Health Care Access, and/ or Food Access.

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Tags: Apple health for Kids   Children’s Health Program   Communities   critical issues   families   health insurance   legislative session   supporting families   Universal Developmental Screening   Vaccine Coverage   Washington Legislature   

Giving Kids a Shot@Life in Washington, D.C.

Earlier this month, Mackenzie Melton and I had traveled to Washington, D.C., where we learned a great deal about the legislative process through a partner organization, Shot@Life. Shot@Life is the arm of the United Nations Foundation that advocates for childhood immunizations across the globe, saving millions of lives annually by securing funding for life-saving vaccines. Shot@Life is currently emphasizing the importance of four vaccines that have the chance to dramatically reduce childhood morbidity and mortality: rotavirus, polio, measles, and pneumonia.
In addition to being a phenomenal learning opportunity where we heard from immunization, public health, and elected leaders, from, for instance, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the State Department, the United Nations, and other esteemed organizations, we were also exposed to the legislative process. We even met with staff members from four legislators’ offices in Washington State: Senator Patty Murray, Representative Jim McDermott, Representative Dave Reichert, and Representative Derek Kilmer. Exploring Capitol Hill and promoting immunizations at home and abroad was a profoundly eye-opening experience that expanded our capacity to do powerful immunization advocacy.
We were stunned that, upon arriving in Senator Patty Murray’s office, her staff members knew not only of the work of Shot@Life, but had read and learned about Vax Northwest on their own accord! It was a thrilling confirmation of our work and its value on the national scene as we seek to protect families everywhere from vaccine-preventable disease. We have long known that there are tremendous resonances between our local work and that happening at larger scales, and we couldn’t be more excited about making these connections.
And in case you need some evidence of the effect of vaccines, a child dies every 20 seconds globally from a vaccine preventable disease, meaning 1.5 million children die per year from deaths that could be prevented with a modest investment. This is a stark reminder of why immunizations are so critical to the health of populations, and why we at WithinReach promote them with such passion. Thanks again to Shot@Life for this opportunity!

 

Tags: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation   Capitol Hill   immunization advocacy.   Measles   Pneumonia   polio   Representative Dave Reichert   Representative Derek Kilmer   Representative Jim McDermott   rotavirus   Senator Patty Murray   Shot@Life   United Nations   United Nations Foundation   vaccines   Vax Northwest   Washington D.C.   

Washington’s Parents Prioritize School Breakfast as Key to Learning

A few weekends back, I had the opportunity to combine my roles as Chief Operating Officer at WithinReach, elementary school mom and PTA member. I represented my local chapter of the PTA at the statewide PTA Legislative Assembly, while using my parent voice to speak up for Washington’s hungriest kids, not just my kids, but ALL kids.
The PTA Legislative Assembly is a critical gathering of parents from across the state. There are 138,000 members of Washington’s PTA’s, making us the largest advocacy organization in the state. At our meetings, the pros and cons of many issues are debated by parents interested in improving education outcomes and closing the opportunity gap for all children. Many issues are presented and voted on and the top 5 become the legislative agenda.
This year there was an intense and necessary focus on funding basic education, as it is required under McCleary v. the State of WA. Education is dramatically under-funded in Washington, and the legislature is currently being held in Contempt of Court for their lack of progress in the direction of fully funding education by 2018.
We all recognized the importance of parents advocating to fully fund basic education. However, we also have an enormous problem with hunger in our state. One in 5 children in Washington lives in a food insecure household. For thousands of kids in WA, their free school lunch may be the only meal they eat each day. WithinReach is driven to improve health for children, and we see ending hunger as key to improving health.
The WSPTA’s vision is to advocate for the whole child, and all children. I was confident (and hopeful) they would vote to bring the powerful voice of the PTA to Olympia this legislative session in support of Breakfast After the Bell. And they did, and here’s why WSPTA voted to support Breakfast After the Bell:
  • No child should be too hungry to learn. In a national survey, 87 percent of principals reported seeing hungry children in their schools at least once a week, and 73 percent of teachers reported having students who regularly come to school hungry because there isn’t enough to eat at home.
  • Hungry children can negatively impact an entire classroom, not to mention their own education. Hunger in children increases behavioral and health problems. It can also decrease a child’s self-esteem. When a child is hungry, his/her ability to concentrate and learn is jeopardized by the emptiness/pain of their stomach. He or she may act out because of their hunger, producing a disruptive environment for the teacher to handle; in turn, pulling the focus of other students away from the lessons being taught.
  • Washington is one of the worst states in the nation when it comes to feeding hungry kids breakfast. We rank 41st out the 50 states in serving eligible, low-income children school breakfast.
  • Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Every parent has probably used that phrase at least once, if not many times.
  • There is a solution! The USDA, the Food Research and Action Council, and other national experts are advocating for serving breakfast after the school day starts. It is a national best practice to increase participation and improve numerous learning and behavior outcomes.

This information made sense to PTA members from across the state and they voted to add it to their legislative agenda. Breakfast is a simple, cost-effective way for schools to help every child be well-nourished and ready to learn. To join the Breakfast After the Bell Coalition and advocate alongside WithinReach, United Way of King County, Children’s Alliance, WSPTA, and many others, contact our Senior Policy Manger: Carrie Glover.

 

Tags: Breakfast After the Bell   Education   Food Insecure   hunger   Legislative Assembly   Washington State PTA   

Policy Workshop: Breakfast After the Bell

By: Laird F. Harris, WithinReach Board President / Harris & Smith Public Affairs
Last week, WithinReach board members participated in a policy workshop to learn and discuss the important role that public policy plays in our theory of change. At the policy workshop, our board got a clear (if not scary) sense of the budget challenges that the Legislature will have to solve next year, as well as, ideas about how we can pursue our policy goals in a constrained fiscal environment. Essentially, the need to fully fund K-12 education as mandated in the Supreme Court’s McCleary decision, will require increased spending of more than $3 billion. If Initiative 1351 reducing class sizes passes, as much as another $2 billion will be needed.

It is unclear how the Legislature will act to fund K-12, but it is very clear to WithinReach and its partners that hungry kids can’t learn well. WithinReach is working with partner organizations to develop and promote Breakfast After the Bell Legislation; that will require a nutritious breakfast to be offered as part of the school day in high needs schools, just like lunch. There is early bi-partisan support for this initiative that has proven to successfully increase participation in school breakfast. We will keep you posted about the measure’s progress.

In addition to our senior policy manager, Carrie Glover, and our lobbyist, Erin Dziedzic, the board heard very informative presentations from Katie Mosehauer with Washington Appleseed, and Julie Peterson with the Prevention Alliance. The board was very impressed by the willingness and ability of like-minded organizations to set priorities and agree to work together. The state faces a huge budget challenge with high risks to programs benefiting families and children. The breadth and strength of the coalitions and community partners we work with will assure that our voices are heard ….will assure that the voices of the families we serve are heard!

 

Tags: Breakfast After the Bell   Child Development   Education   food   Hungry Kids   k-12   Legislature   Nutrition   Prevention Alliance   State Budget   Washington Appleseed   Washington state   Washington State Policy   

The End of the 2014 Legislative Session

On March 13th, just a couple of minutes before midnight, the 2014 legislative session adjourned.  This was the first time in several years that the legislature adjourned on-time.
The final days of session were mostly spent finding a compromise between the House and Senate on the supplemental budget.  An agreement was reached and a conference supplemental operating budget was released and passed by both houses.
There are many programs that we support at WithinReach that saw funding included in this final budget (amounts listed are the Totals included both state funds as well as other funding sources such as federal):-    Healthiest Next Generation – $350,000 in funding is provided for the Department of Health to support this initiative to improve children’s health by promoting healthy eating, making more breastfeeding friendly environments, increasing physical activity, and improving access to healthy foods and drinking water among children.
  • Medicaid Plan Choice – $3.9 million in funding is provided to implement functionality with the Washington Healthplanfinder website so that Medicaid clients can select the Medicaid managed care organization of their choice. This option will be available in FY 2015.
  • Autism screening – $1.256 million in funding is provided for the Health Care Authority to reimburse for autism screenings provided to children at the age of 18 months.
  • Farmers Market Program – $200,000 in additional funding for this program that offers vouchers that help some of Washington’s most vulnerable populations purchase fresh, and nutritious produce at farmers markets.
  • Emergency Food Assistance Program – $800,000 in additional funding for this program that supports food banks around Washington.

Unfortunately some of our other top priorities did not pass this year, including creating a Breastfeeding Friendly Washington designation system (HB 2329/SB 6298) and Breakfast After the Bell (HB 2536/SB 6444).  Both of these efforts had some really great hearings where Alison Carl White was able to testify about the importance of these issues and the work we have already done at WithinReach to promote them.

It’s worth noting that this was the first year that both of these bills were introduced and it is fairly rare for a bill to pass on its first year.  I think you can expect to see both of these issues come back again!

I wanted to end by highlighting a win this session that could easily slide under the radar, but it was really important to immunization policy in Washington.  A bill was introduced this year (SB 6297) that would have had the Department of Health make resources available for pregnant women about childhood immunizations.  It was a nice bill that we were supportive of at WithinReach.  However, at one point, an amendment was passed that would have had had the resources include information about flexible approaches to vaccines.  At WithinReach, we support the only schedule that has ever been proven safe and effective; any deviation from this schedule puts our communities at risk because it lacks a scientific foundation and likely results in immunization delays or opting out of immunizations entirely.  Alison testified about the dangers of this amendment when the bill went to the House Health Care committee.  That committee successfully removed the dangerous amendment language.  While the bill didn’t ultimately pass, we were able to prevent bad policy from passing.  As Alison said in our recent WithinReach staff meeting, “Having no bill is better than having a bad bill”.  It was a great win to get that language removed and prevent bad policy from going though, and it was also good to have the opportunity to speak to the importance of immunizations and the work we do at WithinReach.

Thank you to everyone who supported our legislative priorities this year.  A nice, long interim lies ahead where we can lay a lot of groundwork and prepare for the 2015 legislative session.

Tags: Washington legislative session   

2014 Legislative Session Update- Budgets

We have reached the point during the legislative session where we start talking about some of the really hard stuff – budgets.
Before getting into the highlights of the budget proposals, a brief civics lesson…
In Washington State, we run on a biennial (i.e. two year) budget cycle.  This means that in the first year of the biennium a big budget is written and then, in the second year a supplemental budget is written to make adjustments (cuts and/or additions) depending on how the revenue forecast looks, changes in case loads, new bills, etc.
In years when the big biennial budget is written, the legislature convenes for a long session (105 calendar days).  And in the years where they write a supplemental budget, they convene for a short session (60 calendar days).
We are currently in the second year of the 2013-15 biennial budget, which means we are in a short session and the legislature is working on writing a supplemental budget.
Because supplemental budgets are typically written with the intent of minor tweaks and changes, it is usually difficult to get big new projects funded or large increases in funding for existing programs.
With this in mind, there were a few budget items that we were really excited to see in the budget proposals that came out last week from the House and the Senate.  The Governor’s proposed budget, which was released in December, also included funding for some great programs.
We will provide a more in-depth overview once the final budget has been released, but for now, a couple of highlights from the budget proposals:
  • Funding was included for Medicaid Choice in all three budget proposals.  This would allow Medicaid clients to select the Medicaid Managed Care Organization of their choice when shopping on WA Healthplanfinder.  We are optimistic this will be funded in the final budget.
  •   Both the House and the Senate are anticipating varying levels of savings from the State Health Care Innovation Plan should that bill pass.
  • Varying levels of proposed funding were included in both the Governor’s and House budget for the Healthiest Next Generation Initiative, should that bill pass.  This initiative was proposed by Governor Inslee and would establish a council that seeks to improve children’s health.
  • Varying levels were included in the Governor’s and Senate budget proposals for some funding developmental and/or autism screenings for Apple Health for Kids.
  • Funding for food security programs saw mixed results in the proposed budgets.  Unfortunately, no funding was included for the State Food Assistance Program.  However, some funding was included in the Senate proposed budget for the Farmers Market Nutrition Program, and both the House and Senate included increased funding for the Emergency Food Assistance Program.

The final funding for all of these (and other) programs is still to be determined.  The House and Senate will next enter into negotiations and will come out with a proposed compromise budget within the next day or two. We will be back with an overview of the final outcomes!

Lobby Days

During the flurry of activity throughout legislative session, there is always one thing that is guaranteed to put a smile on the face of anyone who works on policy – a good lobby day.
There is nothing better than seeing everyday citizens come down and have their first meetings with their legislators.  Almost everyone is intimidated at first.  They aren’t sure if they know enough; they try to memorize statistics; they avert their eyes and look to the person in the room who has been to a lobby day before. But then something amazing happens – they find their voice.
Something is said in a meeting that resonates with them, whether it’s something they agree with or not, and then they start to talk.  They realize that this legislator they’re speaking with is just a normal person who has a regular day job outside of session; that their legislator is listening to what they have to say, even if they might not always agree with it; and that they don’t have to be an expert on everything…they just have to care.Then for the next couple of hours, there is a buzz around the Capitol campus.  People going from building to building, comparing meeting experiences, and scribbling down on report back forms.
Lobby days are really some of the best days in Olympia.This year, WithinReach was excited to have the opportunity for staff and Board members participate in three lobby days – Have a Heart for Kids Day, Hunger Action Day, and the United Way Lobby Day.

Have a Heart for Kids Day is the Children’s Alliance’s lobby day and was full of amazing energy and, in addition to some great meetings, included a rally and a parade.  Read about the experience of two of our board members at this Lobby Day by clicking here and here.

Hunger Action Day was the lobby day for the Anti-Hunger and Nutrition Coalition (AHNC) and WithinReach was a lead in planning the day.  There were nearly 200 participants at Hunger Action Day all of which wore orange scarves so they could be easily seen all around campus. Participants met with legislators or their staff in 127 offices about the AHNC legislative priorities and left a crunchy, orange carrot behind as a reminder of the importance or fighting hunger.

The United Day Lobby Day gave us the opportunity to join in meetings with our partners at United Way of King County to talk about issues we both care about, including Breakfast After the Bell.   It was so great to talk with legislators about our many shared priorities.

If you haven’t been to a lobby day before, it’s an experience that every citizen should have.  I hope you’ll join us at a lobby day next year!

Tags: Advocacy   Lobby Days   Olympia   

Advocating for Children’s Health and Nutrition

Written by Board Member Kathleen Lendvay 
My son Luke was asked to share a story with his kindergarten class the day after our trip to Olympia, so I drew this diagram to help him remember and communicate some of what he learned.  This also served as a powerful reminder to me of the beauty and simplicity of our democracy, and the importance of citizens advocating for what’s important to them.
We were in Olympia to advocate for children’s health and nutrition along with friends and colleagues from WithinReach, where I am proud to serve on the board.  WithinReach’s 2014 legislative priorities focus on health and nutrition for children and families in Washington State.  These are issues that I enthusiastically support, and I welcome the opportunity to discuss them with my kids.
One in four children in Washington is food insecure; their families can’t be sure where their next meal is coming from.  I’m fortunate that my kids are not among those who are going hungry, but this is not “someone else’s problem.”  It is our community’s problem.  Organizations advocating for children’s nutrition programs often point out that hungry kids can’t learn.  Neither can kids with a painful toothache or untreated asthma.  Providing robust programs and better connections to those programs in Washington State is the right thing to do.  It’s also the smart thing to do, because educators can’t focus their energy on teaching when they’re dealing with behavioral issues that stem from hunger and pain.  Luke doesn’t know that almost half of the kids in his school receive free or reduced price lunches and some of them may not get enough to eat at home.  But even when the issue is abstract and he’s not envisioning his own friends, he knows that every child should have enough to eat and the ability to see a doctor when they’re sick.
The good news, I told Luke, is that when legislators in Washington vote on bills, they are deciding where to spend the money that we pay in taxes.  It’s our money, which gets spent in our state, by our elected representatives.  So we have an opportunity – even an obligation – to make sure our legislators know where we want them to focus.  We went to Olympia in February with our WithinReach friends to advocate for Washington families.

Have A Heart for Kids Lobby Day

Written by WithinReach Board Member, First Vice President, Silje Sodal

Last week, my children and I had the privilege of joining WithinReach staff and another Board member at the State Capitol.  In all we were five adults and five kids, all under the age of nine!  We were there to support Children’s Alliance and their advocacy efforts to create healthy kids and strong communities – priorities that strongly mirror our values at WithinReach.

Despite all of the pre-trip conversations about government and advocacy, my son and daughter, who are 9 and 7 respectively, didn’t truly grasp what to expect.  After a long drive (“Are we there yet?”) and patiently listening to the inspiring words of the impressive Nancy Amedei, the kids were able to explore and were sufficiently impressed with the grand scale and shape of the Capitol building.  And, for the most part, they resisted temptation to slide down the golden banisters underneath the beautiful dome.

In the morning, we met with both Representative Jessyn Farrell and Senator Frockt, who both have consistently proven to be strong leaders in advocating for kids and families, and in the afternoon met with Representative Brady Walkinshaw, the newest member of Seattle’s legislative delegation.  Our kiddos shyly presented hand written cards that encouraged support for food and healthcare access.  In our state, an astonishing 1 in 4 kids goes to bed hungry at night and the number of school-aged children who qualify for Free and Reduced Meals has risen by 153% since 2000.  When I volunteer in my children’s classroom, I see how quickly the teacher’s ‘class snack shelf’ empties of cheese sticks and granola bars. Hungry kids simply can’t learn.  Two bills being considered, HB2536/SSB6444, aim to establish a process for providing breakfast after the bell in high-needs schools, and our executive director, Alison Carl White, and her daughter, Claire, not only testified to the merits of the bill, but also stole the show with Claire’s sweet testimony!

Breastfeeding is an important predictor of the health of both a mom and her baby, including protecting against childhood obesity, reducing the risk of diseases such as leukemia and SIDS, and reducing the risk for mom of breast and ovarian cancers.  We can celebrate that nine out of ten babies in Washington begin life breastfeeding, but just a dismal 20% of babies are fed only breast milk for the recommended six months. For this reason, we advocated support for another bill, Breastfeeding-Friendly Washington HB2329/SB6298, which establishes a voluntary program to encourage and recognize hospitals, health care providers, workplaces and child care centers that offer an optimal level of care for infant feeding.  I strongly believe Washington would benefit from a state-level support system of training, resources and technical assistance so providers can more effectively support new mothers. Promoting breastfeeding is a fundamental public health strategy and is an extremely effective, low-cost intervention that results in healthier families and communities.

‘Blah, blah, blah’, is what I’m sure the kids heard in most of our legislative meetings. Although much of the discussion was over their heads, they clearly understand the gravity of the issues being discussed.  They also noticed the great view from Rep. Walkinshaw’s office and Sen. Frockt’s cool, bouncy couch. The fun for the kids truly began with the Children’s Alliance rally on the Capitol Steps, complete with drum line, sign waving, chants and parade. Finally, the kids could advocate in a way that their bodies and voices could easily understand!

As we sat in the Pritchard lobby at the end of our day, munching on some well-deserved muffins and apple tarts, my kids reflected that they could feel the energy that buzzed around them. We were surrounded by people who are motivated to serve good causes and contribute to society. While their presentations to classmates the following day probably focused  more on rubbing the George Washington statue nose and the gorgeous capital dome, I am hopeful that they took with them a sense of being a part of their government, a part of the collective that creates a better community and state.  I hope they will understand the importance of participation and retain the optimism that anything is possible – the belief that we are, indeed, stronger together.

Tags: Breakfast Before the Bell   Children's Alliance   Have a heart for kids day   

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