I’m starting my seventh year with Kansas Action for Children (KAC) and have spent the last two and a half years as President and CEO. My entire professional adventure has been spent in the realm of kids – leading policy efforts on behalf of kids affected by sexual and domestic violence, evaluating state and federally funded programs targeting kids affected by adverse childhood experiences and now advocating to make Kansas the best state to raise – and be – a kid.
I have long been passionate about issues pertaining to social justice, anti-racism work and addressing inequities and discovered my greatest strength was in doing macro, or systems and policy-level work. It’s abundantly clear to me that the legacies of unfairness caused by systemic racism have created an inordinate number of obstacles for communities of color in the U.S. and my greatest opportunity to address them is starting with the services and programs that intersect with children and their families. As a nation we have yet to fully realize what a thriving, fully inclusive society could look like and I’m motivated to work on the construction of that vision starting with the support offered before kids arrive and the equitable opportunities availed the moment their feet touch the ground.
- What happened during the midterms in Kansas and how does this change in party and representation impact the state’s early childhood field?
Kansas had an array of changes made during the midterms – after enduring eight years of a gubernatorial administration that decimated services and programs for kids and families, the state chose a new Governor who declared her desire to make things better for Kansas kids. As a former state senator and long-time early childhood champion, Governor-elect Laura Kelly has vowed to repair the vast damage done and craft a new vision for our state. We’ll also be sending two new members to the US House of Representatives – both being new to elected office and giving Kansas Action for Children the opportunity to cultivate relationships and press upon them the importance of robust federal support for Kansas’ youngest people. All 125 seats of the Kansas House of Representatives were up for re-election and the breakdown by party largely looks the same – but that has rarely told the story of what’s possible for Kansas kids and families. At KAC we have long been sincere about being non-partisan and building relationships across the aisle – and the ideological spectrum – so that opportunities for Kansas kids can be embraced and championed by all.
- What have you done to prepare your advocacy work for this new administration and legislature?
We took a number of steps this election season to connect with all candidates – we reached out electronically prior to and after the primary elections. We sent hard copies of new reports to candidates ahead of the general election and we reached out to candidates who were unopposed to meet with them to discuss our policy priorities for the upcoming legislative biennium. We crisscrossed the state on a month-long roadshow in October, talking with community audiences about what was on the line for Kansas kids in the upcoming election and why what happens to kids matters to every Kansas resident – retired seniors, childless adults, business owners, healthcare providers and so many more.
Undoing the damage done by an extremist administration won’t be accomplished in one election cycle and our aspirational vision for kids in our state can’t be achieved if all folks do is vote. Our long game at KAC is to create a statewide corps of champions who show up for kids – at the ballot boxes, on weekends at legislative forums, at the statehouse for legislative hearings, and when they’re talking with friends and neighbors.
- What advice do you have for advocates who did not experience favorable outcomes in this last election cycle?
We didn’t sit idly by as the last administration balanced unaffordable tax cuts on the backs of kids, we fought – by framing the dialogue with media and the public, by canvassing the state year-round speaking to communities and by working with like-minded lawmakers to create momentum in the other direction. We proved a lot was possible in the last two years, even with a gubernatorial administration that actively worked against the wellbeing of Kansas kids. Now with a Governor-elect that understands and prioritizes the needs of kids, paired with a body of returning lawmakers who KAC has worked with and newly elected members we’ll get to know, we think that there’s a lot of possibility to keep building on the outcomes from the last legislative biennium.
We’re also keenly aware of all the ways in which we can assist with positive outcomes outside the statehouse – through administrative rules and regulations. That was a path that has been inaccessible to us at KAC over the last eight years, as the leadership put in place by the previous administration shared little interest with us in doing what was in the best interest of children. So, while there may be some bigger items that consume a lot of time and attention during the legislative session, we’ll also be hard at work building relationships with the new leadership put in place by Gov-elect Kelly in agencies and departments that wield great power for kids and families – and it probably comes as no surprise that like other advocates across the country, we have a host of ideas for them that they can get started on right away to tackle childcare access and affordability, increasing supports for families and addressing the health of infants and their mothers.