Where Do Kids Belong in Making Policy?

Barry Ford
June 8, 2012

Barry Ford is the Director of Public Affairs and Advocacy for the United States Tennis Association and a board member of the Afterschool Alliance.  He left a law career 14 years ago to help shape policy and programs for youth.

Ed. note: Barry's blog was written to accompany the Please Speak Freely podcast about the Afterschool for All Challenge.  Listen to the podcast.

If you are reading this, you probably agree that the needs and interests of children should be front and center when leaders shape the policies of our nation. The harder questions is, how do we make sure they are represented at all?   

Earlier this month, at the Afterschool for All Challenge and USTA’s First Annual Advocacy Days, I spent a lot of time up on Capitol Hill talking about two issues dear to me: afterschool programs and physical activity for kids.  It’s the kind of work that is incredibly invigorating, and immensely frustrating.  It is invigorating to hear young people, parents, educators and youth workers share their stories and experiences, like the young man whose afterschool program gave him the means, tennis programming, and the motivation, to take control of his diabetes.  Or the afterschool chess champ who led a successful campaign to get Mayor Bloomberg to restore funding cut from his school.

On the other hand, hearing these stories is immensely frustrating.  These young people rarely come first when policy is made.  Even if we have success one year, it could be undone the next, with new leadership, new budgets, new priorities.  Advocacy is never over. 

Having spent the last 11 years trying to elevate youth issues in policy, I have come to see advocacy like training for a sport.  We can make progress, but we must keep at it every day.  Don’t let a meeting mark the beginning and end of your efforts.  Invite policy makers to see your programs.  Share a copy of your latest achievement or news clipping.  Bring kids in to share their stories. 

If you suffer a setback, don’t give up.  There is always another opportunity or angle to pursue; that is the upside of a never-ending policymaking process.

If we don’t keep up the full court press, you can be sure no one else will do it for us—or for our kids.  We must keep at it, every day, for their voices and needs to be heard. 

What you can do to take action for afterschool.

This blog was originally published on Afterschool Snack, the blog of Afterschool Alliance. It is reprinted here with permission.