Saturday, May 26, 2012

No agenda for children and families?

If you listen to Governor Mead talk about natural resource issues you cannot help but be impressed. He has a working knowledge of water law, oil and gas development, public lands and the complexities of environmental law.

The Governor has appointed leaders who are more than competent on those issues. Some served under Governor Freudenthal. Others have been around even longer. They have a deep understanding not only of the issues but also of the players in the federal government and the private energy sector. They comprehend how the complex puzzles fit together. While I don’t always agree with the Governor on these matters, I am comfortable that decisions are well considered by thoughtful people. I believe they have an agenda and a vision for where they want to go during Mr. Mead’s term in office.

So what happened with children and families?

If this administration has an agenda for children and families, it’s a well-kept secret. The problems confronting Wyoming’s children and families, however, are not such a secret. This week another report demonstrated the state’s failure to meet the challenge. The National Partnership for Women and Families graded all states on how well it supports new and expecting families. Wyoming received an “F.”

Data on the Wyoming Children’s Alliance website provides evidence of why this administration should be more aggressive in finding solutions to the problems of children and families Sixteen percent of children through four years of age live in poverty as do more than half of all Wyoming children living in a home where there is no father.

This administration has no healthcare plan other than to send lawyers to court to stop healthcare reform. Yet twenty-eight percent of mothers do not receive adequate prenatal services. One in five Wyoming adults with responsibility for raising children don’t have health insurance and more than a third of those adults, even those with some insurance, cannot afford to see a doctor when they should.

Efforts to reform the juvenile court system that had great momentum under the last governor have ground to a halt under this one. Likewise, there’s been no apparent progress on early childhood development in the first two years of this administration.

During the administrations of the last two governors, Jim Geringer, a Republican, and Dave Freudenthal, a Democrat, very public efforts were undertaken to reduce underage drinking. It worked. Lifetime use of alcohol dropped by nearly 15%.  Young people drinking within the last 30 days declined by more than a quarter. Binge-drinking among those who were not old enough to drink fell by more than 28%. All of those numbers have been heading in the right direction. But the successes were not accidental. They resulted from leaders who put the issue high on their agenda. The downward trend will not continue unless this Governor does the same.

And yet there is no indication the current Governor has a children and families agenda much less one that gives priority to these important causes. The absence of such an agenda is especially troubling as the state descends into another round of budget cuts. Anyone can cut a budget.  But without a plan and a strategy, the cuts will fall most onerously on the heads of those who have always been left behind. If the Governor doesn’t make children and families a priority, can his appointees be expected to do so? .

Children and families may have lobbyists who care about their issues but they don’t have the same access as those who want the Governor’s time and attention on energy development, land use, water and other natural resource issues. The Governor must be the one who balances his time and attention. A four year term goes by faster than anyone on the inside would like. Matt Mead’s term is nearly half gone now. The children and families of Wyoming can’t afford a four-year attention lapse in the Governor’s office.

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