Make children and families top priority in 2012 V.I. election
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It's election time again, and candidates are doing a lot of talking again!
They'll talk about their priorities and the kinds of legislation they intend to champion.
They tend to tailor their messages to the audience they are addressing at the moment. That audience is you! Candidates should be talking about the issues that are important to you, and your voting decisions should be made on the basis of candidates' commitments.
High on the list of the many priorities should be issues that impact the lives of children and families on our islands. But children's issues are not often at the top of the list of things political candidates want to talk about. After all, kids don't vote or make campaign contributions.
Certainly children, and the issues affecting them - such as early education, health insurance or childhood poverty - do not get talked about enough, considering that children represent 100 percent of our community's future. That's why it is imperative that those of us who care deeply about kids and families do our best to make their vital issues an important part of the electoral campaign debate and discussion.
So here are some suggested questions you might want to ask your candidates if you attend a forum, a fish fry, if they come canvassing to your home or if you just meet them on the street:
Research has shown that children 5 years old and younger who experience high quality care and education in their young lives are more likely to become successful adults and less likely to become high school dropouts, be arrested or depend on public support. Yet KIDS COUNT data shows that more than one third of V.I. children entering kindergarten test below age-level expectations in learning skills that are key to their success in kindergarten and beyond.
Candidates, what are your thoughts on the quality of early care and education in the territory? What measures would you support to improve the quality of early care and education for young V.I. children?
According to the most-recent KIDS COUNT Data Book, 59 percent of V.I. youth ages 18 to 19 did not have a high school diploma, and 19 percent of all 16 to 19 year olds (almost 1 of every 5 youth this age) were neither attending school nor working
Candidates, what measures would you support to strengthen our education system, to keep kids in school and to enhance employment opportunities for youth when they have completed school?
KIDS COUNT 2011 reports that 27 percent of V.I. youth ages 18 and under were without health insurance.
Candidates, how would you approach the territory's efforts to provide access to adequate medical care, and what strategies would you recommend for funding adequate health insurance?
Although the V.I. family median income rose to $43,691 in 2009, it's still far below the U.S. family median income of $60,088 for the same year. Additionally, the V.I. reported a child poverty rate of 30 percent in 2009.
Candidates, what measures would you propose to reduce the rate of child poverty in the territory? Given the current economic state of affairs in the territory, what budget cuts would you support? What revenue-generating measures would you propose?
The 2011 USVI KIDS COUNT Data Book shows that our 2009 rate of juvenile violent crime arrests (673 arrests per 100,000 children between the ages of 10 and 17) far exceeds the US. rate (261 arrests per 100,000 children), and that rate has continued rising since 2001.
What measures would you support to reduce the rate of juvenile violent crime activity? What are your thoughts on possible causes for this high rate?
Remember, it's up to us, the voters, to make sure that the issues candidates talk about are the ones that are important to us!
Ask the questions, ponder the answers, and then on Election Day, Nov. 6, use your informed decisions to vote for the candidates that you believe will ensure a brighter future for the V.I. by improving the lives of children and families in the territory.
- Judith Richardson is co-director of USVI KIDS COUNT at the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands.