SparkUpdate: January 8, 2013



January 8, 2013 | Is This the Year We've Waited For?

I don't miss the turmoil and tensions of the 1960s, but I would welcome a return of the idealistic fervor that brought us expanded health care for the poor and elderly, Head Start, federal funding for schools in poor communities and landmark legislation to end voter suppression.

Every year I wonder if this will be the year we rededicate our resources and political will to expanding opportunity and keeping all children safe and secure.

Call me an optimist, but this year may be the one I've been waiting for.

Several things happened in 2012 that give me hope. First, the endless fiscal cliff debate helped turn many us into semi-experts on the ways political choices in Washington impact jobs, the economy and families. Our demographics -- there are more Millennials than Baby Boomers, and a growing number of Americans belong to minority or immigrant families -- could sway political calculations on issues like education, college loans and immigration. Finally, from the ashes of the devastating tragedy in Newtown may rise a new energy for efforts to curb violence and support children who experience trauma.

Will this be the year for real change in systems and supports for children and youth? In this, our annual "crystal ball" Update, we take a look at what could happen in 2013.

Happy new year,
Jan Richter, SparkAction Update Editor

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SparkAction's Jan Richter with her Boys & Girls Club mentees.
In This Issue
Economic Opportunity
College Access & Affordability
Health & Nutrition
Safety & Violence
Also on our Watch List
Two New Videos
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Question of the Week
What is your biggest goal for children and youth in 2013?  

Share your answer
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What's In Store in 2013
With the new Congress now in session, here are some major areas we'll be watching.   

An Economy That Works for Everyone?economyforall

Each year, we understand more about the complex causes and impacts of poverty. Children who grow up in poverty can suffer long-lasting neurological and developmental disadvantages, which has significant implications for children, programs and policy as a new brief from the Society for Research in Child Development makes clear.

The 2012 presidential election underscored a major divide in attitudes toward the poor, but advocates take heart: A recent bipartisan Brookings panel found substantial common ground among policy analysts, particularly for solutions that address the growing numbers of young people and families trapped by low skills, poor education and eroding wages.

Our economy's increasing divide between high- and low-wage jobs puts youth with few marketable skills or family/community supports at a big disadvantage. Corporate Voices for Working Families and Year Up offer recommendations on how policymakers can invest in federal programs and policies to improve opportunities and results for these young people.

What You Can Do action

The recent fiscal cliff deal in Congress delayed the tough decisions on cuts to programs until March. Now is the time to let elected officials know how you feel about the programs that face cuts, including education, Head Start, Medicaid, child care and food aid for pregnant women and babies.  Here are three easy ways to reach your elected officials. 

        • You can always use SparkAction's zip code-activated tracker to find and contact federal, state and local officials. We've got tools to help with your messages, too. 

For stories of what's working and to stay on top of the research and policy news from organizations across the country, bookmark SparkAction's Family Economic Success section.


College Access & Student Debt affordability

Rising college costs along with the growing earnings divide between college graduates and non-graduates means that more first-time college students are incurring big debts. The strength of the youth vote in the 2012 election should make politicians eager to help individual students finance and finish college, while also creating the skilled workers we need for a robust economy.

What if we fail? Consider this: In a recent New York Times article on the hurdles that push many college students deep into debt and prevent them from completing college, Jason de Parle says "education, a force meant to erode class barriers, appears to be fortifying them."

So just why are college costs so high? The Delta Cost Project at the American institutes for Research reports that media attention focused on "frills" like climbing walls may be distracting us from more serious questions about spending on campus facilities, college spending in general, and the real drivers of rising tuition.

Some improvements in the student loan system took effect in 2012. For example, the Institute for College Access & Success says recent college graduates with federal student loans can apply to lower their monthly payments using the Pay As You Earn plan.

One of our readers, Robert Newton in Michigan, wrote to say he has seen good results from TRIO programs, which identify and offer services to students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Through its Michigan Experience Scholarship program, the University of Michigan offers students in TRIO programs a $10,000 per year scholarship. As a result, the son of a single mom who works as a cook in a school cafeteria can afford to attend University of Michigan.

SparkAction's All In initiative will keep you posted on efforts to improve success for post-secondary students and those facing the biggest obstacles to college and college completion.   



Health & Nutrition healthnutrition
BABYdocThe fiscal cliff agreement left health care reform mostly untouched. For specifics, check out Georgetown University's Center for Children and Families Say Ahh! blog.

On January 1, Medicaid payment rates for children's care increased to match those of Medicare, as part of the health reform law. That's good news considering that more children are eligible for and accessing Medicaid and CHIP (the Children's Health Insurance Program), according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Urban Institute.     


Still, a funny thing has happened on the way to full implementation of the Affordable Care Act. A majority of states have refused to develop exchanges for residents to buy health insurance. This means that it will be up to the federal government to design systems for these states. With so many states abdicating to the feds, we may be approaching a universal health care system for insurance coverage sooner rather than later.  


appleSpotlight on Childhood Obesity. Research published late in 2012 brought some good news on obesity rates. In places like Philadelphia, New York,  Mississippi and California, comprehensive action is lowering obesity ratesTeenagers like YC Teen's Juana Vargas are paying more attention to what they eat. The National League of Cities has a new initiative to bring "Let's Move!" home.   


What You Can Do  

  • Use the three easy action alerts above to let your elected representatives know where you stand on cuts to health care programs in 2013.
  • Good eating habits start early, so SparkAction has an early nutrition toolkit to help young parents and policy makers give kids a healthy start through better early nutrition.


Children's health is a broad topic. Let SparkAction keep you focused with our Health topic page.  



Safety & Exposure to Violence exposure

Will the public outcry over the tragic Newtown massacre be enough to drive policy change? SparkAction youth blogger Jamira Burley tells what it's like to lose a brother who was gunned down in his sleep -- one of the 34 people in America killed each day by a gun.

In December, the Attorney General's National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence issued its final report and series of recommendations for reducing exposure to violence and mitigating its devastating impacts on child development.

Breaking news: In its last hectic days, Congress passed An Act to Protect our Kids, which creates a new, two-year national commission to develop a wide-ranging strategy for ending the upwards of 2,500 child abuse and neglect deaths a year.

What You Can Do

  • In an open letter on the human development factor of gun violence, National Human Services Assembly CEO Irv Katz says that the solutions that keep young people connected and provide early identification and treatment for those at most risk should be part of the public discussion on how to reduce gun violence. If you agree, why not let your elected officials know
  • The National Council has launched a petition to the White House asking President Obama to invest in public education on school campuses to help support youth who may be experiencing a mental health condition.   

We're Also Watchingwatching


Immigration Reform 

Demographics may drive a bipartisan agreement on immigration reform. At the very least, advocates say this could be the year that Congress finally passes a DREAM Act.  


Foster Care & Data Sharing
Well-intentioned but outdated privacy policies have prevented foster care agencies from accessing the school records of children in their care. No longer. In a technical yet very significant change, Congress just passed a bipartisan bill to allow foster care agencies to access school records of children in their care (while maintaining strict privacy controls). Next week, we'll have a snapshot from the Forum for Youth Investment on what this means children in foster care.

Genuine Youth Voice in Policymaking
As we've reported, it's been a good year for youth engagement in policymaking. First, the National Youth Ambassadors led a discussion on re-engaging disconnected youth. Later in 2012, the National Council of Young Leaders convened and released their policy recommendations, then began meeting with high-profile elected officials (watch the video). Then, the campaign for a Presidential Youth Council got a major boost when the Senate introduced a bipartisan resolution for its creation. Here's hoping 2013 builds on this trend of authentic youth engagement.

Supporting Girls in the Juvenile Justice System
The number of girls involved in the juvenile justice system is on the rise, and the system isn't prepared. A recent report from the Georgetown Center on Poverty, Inequality, & Public Policy looked at lessons learned from states that are making positive reforms.  Many girls in the system are denied mental health services they're legally entitled to. examines the issue and proposed reforms and has tips for advocates.


Coming Up: Two New Videos ...

Next week, stay tuned for two new videos:

  • The Youth Inaugural Address, a project we're joining with the Children's Leadership Council and Every Child Matters. Before the holidays we interviewed students all up and down the East Coast, and received online submissions from all over the country from kids and youth telling us what they want to see from the President and Congress in the next four years. Learn more about this project.
  • A SparkAction video tutorial on social media clients, helping you be efficient and effective on Twitter and Facebook. While you're waiting, check out the latest video guide of our Contact the Media tool in the SparkAction Action Center.
Caitlin Johnson and Thaddeus Ferber
SparkAction and the Forum for Youth Investment
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January 8, 2013

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