Voices for Utah Children: Advocates for Utah’s children

Story and slideshow by CECELIA FENNELL

Photos courtesy of Voices For Utah Children

See images of Voices for Utah Children

When it comes to issues facing children living in poverty, children have little say about what can be done to improve their situation. Voices for Utah Children, a nonprofit located in Salt Lake City, works with policymakers to advocate for children who wouldn’t be able to resolve health care and living situations on their own.

“Voices for Utah Children is not a direct service provider because public policy can, over time, benefit thousands of kids – long term change is through policy,” said Karen Crompton, executive director of Voices for Utah Children, in a phone interview.

According to its website, Voices for Utah Children was established in 1985 as an advocacy group that does not provide direct services, but a voice for Utah children in public policy decisions. Voices for Utah Children became a member of Voices for America’s Children in 2002. It is located in Salt Lake City.

“The two biggest issues currently facing Utah’s children are education and health care,” Crompton said.

The mission of Voices for Utah Children is to make Utah a place where all children thrive. The organization starts with one question in mind: “Is it good for kids?” At Voices for Utah Children, every child deserves the opportunity to reach his or her full potential. The organization focuses on five key areas that benefit the healthy development of all children – health, school readiness, safety, economic stability and diversity.

Voices for Utah Children worked to reauthorize the Child Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Because of this more children can enroll in health care.

Through the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2009, CHIPRA, the U.S. can now fund enrollment policies that will allow 4.1 million additional children who are not currently covered by Medicaid or CHIP to enroll in health care. Now, any child in Utah can enroll in health care because of the advocates at Voices for Utah Children as well as other partnering organizations.

One partner, First Focus, is an advocacy organization dedicated to helping policy decisions on behalf of children.

According to its website, “The Children’s Health Insurance Program, also known as CHIP provides health coverage to more than seven million low-income families whose income is too high to qualify for Medicaid, but who don’t earn enough to purchase private health insurance on their own. Approximately 42 percent of U.S. children get their health coverage through Medicaid or CHIP.”

Voices for Utah Children uses a data tool called KIDS COUNT to find children in need. Terry Haven is the KIDS COUNT director of Voices for Utah Children and works with statistical information regarding Utah’s low-income children.

According to its website, “Utilizing KIDS COUNT data allows policymakers and community leaders to make data-driven decisions that will provide a better future for our state’s youngest citizens.”

KIDS COUNT shows the numbers of where the highest demand for advocacy is for Utah children, and where the highest amounts of children from low-income families are located.

“The highest number of children living in poverty come from the west side of Salt Lake City, but the highest percentage of children aren’t in Salt Lake County,” Haven said in a phone interview.

According to the 2011 KIDS COUNT data book, the need for child advocacy is all over Utah, not just on the west side.

Because the demand for child advocacy spans across the state, employees of Voices for Utah Children are assigned specific issues to advocate and work with policymakers and community leaders in all cities to accomplish the organization’s mission.

Lincoln Nehring is the senior health policy analyst at Voices for Utah Children and does a lot of lobbying. He does this through testifying at hearings and making presentations to policymakers.

Nehring said that advocacy around health care is categorized into two types: offensive advocacy, and defensive advocacy. Offensive advocacy deals with making changes to a program, simplifying programs and expanding programs. Defensive advocacy helps to resolve issues facing programs that are being threatened.

“When presenting programs and policies to the legislature Voices excels at identifying programs that can improve problems,” Nehring said in a phone interview. “On the offensive side they present why it’s a good idea for the state to move in that direction and all the logistics, how it will be paid for, why it is a good idea, etc. On the defensive side the organization can see the idea from the beginning and when Voices sees something bad that can potentially threaten a good program it’s hard to advocate – response to cut bad ideas is much more difficult,” he said.

Though testifying at hearings and making presentations to policymakers seems both difficult and intimidating, Nehring said the real work comes from the training prior to lobbying. “The bulk of the work is from understanding the issue,” he said.

Each of these directors at Voices for Utah Children encourages people to speak up. They said the best way for people to get involved is to get to know their policymakers.

“Your voice can be important, you can make a difference. A lot of times people feel like they don’t have a voice, like they’re screaming into a hurricane wind – that might be true in some states but not in Utah, one person can make a big difference. The legislature is your neighbor in Utah,” Nehring said.