Home: A good start, a healthy start, the right start

Tamara Copeland is president of the Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers (WRAG).  On March 21st, WRAG is hosting former HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros to speak on “Why We Should All Care About Housing.” Click here to register.

As a child advocate, you have to juggle issues as diverse as early childhood education, health care, child welfare and juvenile justice. You do this because you know that they are all connected.  A child with a toothache isn’t able to focus on the lessons being taught at school.  A child who doesn’t have a quality pre-K experience is less likely to come to school ready to learn. And a child who is disconnected from a nurturing family is more likely to fill the family void by joining a gang.

It is because you know how intertwined these issues are that you seek to address all of them.  But somehow when you think of the issues that converge to determine whether a child will be physically and emotionally healthy and primed to succeed in life, child advocates often don’t think of housing.

I know this because for much of my professional life I was a practicing, fully engaged, child advocate. I was president of Voices for America’s Children, a national child advocacy organization of which DC Action for Children is a long-standing member.  At no time during my tenure at Voices did we focus on housing.  In hindsight, I find that a bit disturbing because nothing can be more fundamental to a holistically healthy child than having a home.

And here’s a valuable gauge of public conversation. Recently, the Washington Post convened a panel to discuss the greatest needs of our country’s children and families. The panel featured parents, policymakers and experts, each with important ideas about improving outcomes. None of them spoke about the importance of home.

A home can be defined in all sorts of ways, but it must be a safe place, an ongoing residence, a place that gives a child the security that is needed to tackle all of the other challenges of life. So, to my fellow child advocates, I urge you to expand your thinking on what are the critical issues for children. Home has to be on your list.

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