Connecticut's First Statewide Campaign for Kids

February 11, 1999

Connecticut may have the highest per capita income of any state in the nation, but how will it stay competitive economically as the gap between rich and poor grows, leaving thousands of children and families behind?

"We've come out of a recession in the state," says Shelley Geballe, co-director of Connecticut Voices for Children (CVC), a statewide advocacy organization. "But for many of Connecticut's children, the recession continues."

Geballe shares the concern of many residents: while Connecticut is cruising economically, the recovery is not shared equally. That's why CVC launched Connecticut's Promise: First for Kids, a two-year citizen-based campaign aimed at making children's issues top priority for elected officials, candidates, policymakers and community leaders.

"At a time when we ought to be doing better by kids," Geballe says, "our kids are falling behind." Between the late 70s and mid 90s, the gap between the rich and poor Connecticut families with children grew faster than in any other state. This is particularly alarming because national research shows that low income is perhaps the single most detrimental influence on a child's development. In addition, 1997 KIDS COUNT data shows that Connecticut kids today are at their lowest point since 1985 on six out of ten indicators of well-being.

Geballe and the three other co-directors of CVC knew the time was ripe for a citizen-based movement. "We started the organization because we felt there was a strong voice coming from provider organizations, and a strong voice through the Legislature's Connecticut Commission on Children," says co-director Janice Gruendel, "but there wasn't a strong citizen-based constituency."

Never before has Connecticut had a statewide campaign for kids. At least, none that mobilizes citizens to address—and ask candidates to address—the comprehensive needs of all children in the state. Connecticut's Promise targets on six resources that all children need to become successful adults: economic security, caring adults, adequate health care, community service opportunities, a safe environment, and essential knowledge and skills. Government accountability is an additional campaign theme, about which local and national experts will offer insight at a First Monday event in December 1998.

Through 1000 Voices for Connecticut's Children, the citizen-mobilization arm of the campaign, people find out how to take specific actions in their own communities. The current shift in responsibility for social programs from the federal government to the states makes it an opportune time for bringing kids' issues down to the local level, and to involve more citizens. According to Gruendel, devolution of power can be a good thing-if child advocates can mobilize their constituents.

Knowledgeable voters can ensure the election of candidates from both parties who will take children and families into consideration with every decision they make. The 1998 elections are a critical time for programs serving children and families, and Connecticut's Promise has set out to make the most of it.