Kansans must keep in mind an African proverb when pondering the future of children and families, Rep. Sandy Praeger, R-Lawrence, said dnr Wednesday.
The proverb, theme of a legislative panel that drafted a five-year blueprint for addressing children's issues in Kansas, is: "It takes a whole village to raise a child."
Praeger said in a University Forum lecture at the Ecumenical Christian Ministries building that children are the key to a strong future for the state, and every citizen should accept responsibility for helping young people.
"If we're going to have change occur, we need to take responsibility. We need to find what we can do personally to help improve the status of children in our community," Praeger said.
If those needs and that motto aren't addressed in Lawrence, they won't be addressed nationally either, she said.
SHE SAID the need to make adjustments in Kansas to deal with economic, social and demographic transformations of the past 30 years can be illustrated with statistics.
One in seven Kansas children lives in a family without a minimally decent income.
Nearly half of Kansas children under 2 have not been immunized.
One-fourth of Kansas public school children are at risk of failure at school.
Kansas' juvenile incarceration rate is the nation's seventh-highest.
Praeger said government can't solve all of these problems. Individuals must join with government, community agencies, schools and businesses to improve the well-being of children and families, she said.
PRAEGER served on a legislative panel, called the Children's Initiatives Committee, that settled on seven strategic objectives and forwarded them to the Legislature.
The committee concluded that any program to help children also must help strengthen the entire family, Praeger said. Parents need additional support at the birth of a child and during a divorce, she said.
Praeger said the committee agreed that investment strategies should target children under 6 years of age. That means expansion of Head Start and improvements in child protective services, she said.
"We must prepare children better so they enter school ready to learn," she said. "When kids get behind, it's hard to catch up."
SCHOOLS need to respond to educational development needs of children, Praeger said. That means innovative curriculum, better funding and mandated school breakfast programs.
"Do we just turn our back on kids going to school hungry?" she said.
Praeger said the state also must make affordable health care available to every Kansas child, improve coordination of local and state children's services, make business a partner in the reform process and reduce high-risk behavior by children.
"The committee as a whole placed a very high priority on prevention programs," Praeger said. "We believe prevention is the key to having any kind of long-term effect on the status of children in our state and nation," she said.
"I believe the more we do for children, the better off all of us in the state are going to be. It's not going to happen quickly and not without the infusion of state funds," she said.