Arizona Town Hall tackles how to build, encourage strong
One probing question offered to 50 civic and educational leaders at a community Town Hall workshop on Friday was what each would tell lawmakers to do to ensure strong families and thriving children.
Challenges Facing Arizona’s Families
-24 percent of Arizona’s children live in poverty; national average is 19 percent.
-Arizona’s rate of children entering foster care is ten per 1,000 children; the national average is 6 per 1,000.
-The National Center for Education Statistics shows Arizona’s graduation rate as 80 percent; the national average is 84 percent. Local districts average about 90 percent.
-Protective factors to benefit children: Parental resilience; Social connections; Knowledge of child development with age-appropriate expectations; Concrete support in times of need; and Social and emotional competence of children.
The resounding cry at the event held at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University was for an enhanced investment in “cradle to career” education. Another was to change societal language so that all families are deemed “deserving” of nonprofit and social services aimed at bolstering opportunities to enrich and encourage families so as to benefit all children.
The Prescott Community Town Hall workshop was sponsored through Arizona Town Hall, a non-profit, multi-partisan organization that since 1962 has been seeking creative solutions to complex problems that impact people in all sectors of the state. The focus of their efforts is to empower Arizonans to collaborate and connect with one another so as to solve problems.
With those goals in mind, the attenders suggested legislators must allocate money for education and associated resources so as to assure all families and children are deemed equal and deserving of a promising future. The very heart of democracy is at stake, several said.
“Every citizen (18 and older) has the right to vote so everyone needs to be educated,” suggested Yavapai College Humanities Professor Sukey Waldenberger, one of the group facilitators.
The Town Hall moderators offered data that confirms that families and children without adequate community supports and educational opportunities often are those who succumb to addiction, mental health crisis and end up on the wrong side of the law.
In their background report for their topic “Strong Families Thriving Children” it stated that the long-term prosperity of this state depends on the healthy development of the youngest of the generations, the boys and girls who will grow up to be this state’s workforce.
Certain societal costs when families and children don’t thrive come with dollar signs, the report indicated.
“On average, the estimated lifetime cost of child maltreatment is about $210,000 for each victim. This cost includes childhood health care costs, adult health care costs and lost productivity,” the report reads.
Organized into tables of 10, workshop participants were asked to discuss a series of questions related to the topic “Strong Families Thriving Children” about ways to make this a state priority.
A number of educators and other leaders said the backbone of the community, the economy and democracy as a whole depends on the ability for every child to have access to a high caliber education that enables them to find meaningful work that offers them personal dignity and a means to meet their family’s needs.
All were clear no child, or family, should ever have to live without certain essentials: food, shelter, clothes, essential medical care and support of a caring community.
Waldenberger and others said it is key that the educational and broader community embrace and encourage families and children so they are willing to seek resources and opportunities to enhance their lives. She embraces the need to destigmatize barriers that can prevent families and children from reaching out for help, she said.
Yavapai Big Brothers Big Sisters new recruitment strategy for mentors refers to them as “influencers of potential,” eschewing language that might stigmatize or offend a family or child seeking such friendships.
Veteran educator Patty Newton said she wants to encourage continued collaboration between the schools and community agencies so as to leverage needed resources for children and families.
She, too, is a proponent of more support for early childhood education and investment in classroom teachers.
“We really must value a good education and how important good teachers are,” Newton said.
The fundamental priority of all elected lawmaker’s jobs, be it the city, county, state or federal government, is to make sure every decision they make centers around bolstering families, Waldenberger insisted.
Prescott Public Library Community Services Manager Martha Baden said she fears “what’s in peril if we don’t.”
Follow Nanci Hutson on Twitter @HutsonNanci. Reach her at 928-445-3333 ext. 2041.