Children always have held a very special place in my heart. Long before I became a mother, I spent countless hours babysitting or volunteering at day care centers in my hometown.
Perhaps I've always been keenly aware of the fact children must have someone to look out for them, to be an advocate on their behalf.
That is why I worked with Court Appointed Special Advocates when I was in college. Commonly known as C.A.S.A., I trained with the organization through my sorority and testified in court cases on behalf of a child's best interests.
Heather Goodwin Henline
Later, I became a foster mother who saw firsthand the perils of an underfunded, understaffed state system. And finally I became a mother to my own biological children - who, along with my husband, are the loves of my life.
That is why I opened with great interest an e-mail from Kathy Geller Myers, communications director for Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children. The organization has put together some resources for editors to use in meetings with candidates for state and federal offices. It's goal is to help keep the focus on children and youth this election season.
I decided to share, in part, some of those questions with Sentinel readers. The questions focus on five key areas of concern.
Child Abuse and Neglect
On any given day, 20,000 Pennsylvania children live in the foster care system. Most children spend about 16 months living in foster care. One-third of children re-enter foster care within one year of being rejoined with their families. What steps will you take as an elected official to assure that fewer children ever enter the foster care system? What steps will you take as an elected official to assure that every child has the benefit of living with a forever family?
School districts' spending per student varies greatly from district to district, which can greatly impact students' education experiences. What steps will you take as an elected official to ensure adequate and equitable financing for all public schools? What steps will you take as an elected official to further increase student achievement in the commonwealth's schools?
Early Childhood Education
Studies show that high-quality early childhood education helps enhance children's school readiness and later school and life success. What steps will you take as an elected official to ensure more children have access to high-quality, publicly financed pre-kindergarten?
Pennsylvania has led the nation in providing children's health insurance through our Cover All Kids program. What steps will you take as an elected official to ensure that a strong state/federal partnership is in place to assure the continued success of Cover All Kids? What steps will you take as an elected official to ensure that every child enrolled in a public insurance program like Cover All Kids has access to the health care providers they need?
After School and Youth
Research shows that children and youth who participate in afterschool programs demonstrate better student achievement levels, classroom behavior and engage in less risky behaviors that could have life-altering consequences.
What steps will you take as an elected official to ensure more children and youth have access to afterschool programs?
The reason I shared these questions with you is because politicians aren't accountable to the media. Rather, they must answer members of the public, the ones of have the true power to elect them to office. As a journalist, I will pose these questions. As a voter, I hope you watch for the candidates' answers.
Heather Goodwin Henline is managing editor of The Sentinel. She may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.