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Summit focuses on moving state's children forward
By Karen Templeton
MSU Ag Communications
MISSISSIPPI STATE – Mississippi may surpass the national average of children living in poverty and the teenage birth rate, but its child advocates plan to refocus their efforts after sharing success stories and ideas at the recent Mississippi KIDS COUNT Summit.
More than 150 attended the second annual Summit at the Mississippi State University Riley Center in Meridian. The purpose was to focus on the progress that Mississippi must make to improve the well-being of its children.
According to 2008 KIDS COUNT data, 30 percent of Mississippi's children live in poverty compared to a national average of 18 percent. The teen birth rate is 61 babies per 1,000 females between the ages of 15 and 19, while the national average is 40.
The information was compiled in the 2008 KIDS COUNT Data Book and distributed at this year's Summit. Attendees will use these statistics as they develop programs targeted at improving the lives of Mississippi's youth and families.
“The Summit gave us the opportunity to share the latest statistics and research regarding Mississippi's children,” said Linda Southward, MSU research professor and director of Mississippi KIDS COUNT. “The information helps educators, policymakers, caregivers, advocates and others as they develop programs to care for and support Mississippi's children.”
Mississippi KIDS COUNT is an Annie E. Casey grantee. It is managed by the Family and Children Research Unit at MSU's Social Science Research Center, which is partially funded by the Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Experiment Station. KIDS COUNT's mission is to serve as the research and development clearinghouse for information on the best practices on issues pertaining to the health, education, safety and economic well-being of Mississippi's children.
One of the success stories highlighted at the event was that of Catch Kids in Tupelo. The program meets local families' health needs by providing community-based medical clinics. The clinics provide nighttime services so parents do not need to miss work to take their children to the doctor.
Featured speaker Lynn Davey, vice president of FrameWorks Institute, equipped attendees with new information on how communication affects social policy.
“There is a science to talking about social issues,” Davey said. “Child advocates need to understand they are communicators of problems that affect society. Learning how to best convey these problems to policymakers can make a tremendous difference in the development of social policy.”
Wintley Phipps, education activist and founder of the U.S. Dream Academy, inspired attendees to focus on helping children succeed in school. Phipps said there is no substitute for love and care when it comes to helping children live up to their full potential.
“Increasing the density of loving adults in the life orbit of a child is key,” Phipps said. “The family is still the foundation of a healthy community.”
Phipps also provided findings from his research on education and solutions for improving Mississippi's education system.
Four afternoon break-out sessions included discussions on best practices in the state. Program directors and state leaders led sessions on economic well-being, education, health and safety issues.
Summit attendees said they are ready to put to use the knowledge they gained at this year's event.
“Since returning from the Summit, I have remembered Dr. Davey's presentation multiple times and have tried to use her suggestions,” said Lisa Long, senior education specialist with Save the Children USA. “Developing messages for social change, influencing policy and programming, and mobilizing funds for supporting young children and their families are part of my work, so the Summit spoke directly to issues I grapple with on a daily basis.”
Elmarie Brooks, coordinator for Family First Resource Center, will be using the advice presented by Phipps and the KIDS COUNT Data Book to develop grants.
“He made good points about how we can use additional resources to fill in gaps to make children feel more secure at school and in their learning,” she said.
Joann Mickens, Parents for Public Schools' Delta project director, enjoyed the event's networking aspect.
“I learned about the existence of organizations that we can collaborate with in the future,” she said. “I believe pooling our resources and energy enhances our chance at making life better for those in need.”
All of the Summit's experts agreed that the needs of children are even greater in today's uncertain economic climate.
“Research shows that economic instability can worsen conditions for children. Loss of jobs and healthcare coverage significantly impacts the health and stability of families and communities,” Southward said.
Southward said children who have access to healthy, secure, consistently safe and educationally sound environments have an opportunity for the best possible development.
“We are thankful so many joined us in refocusing efforts on changing the lives of our state's children,” Southward said.
Contact: Dr. Linda Southward, (662) 325-7127