Voices for Georgia's Children
Only 10 states lag behind Georgia when it comes to child welfare.
That's no surprise to Pat Willis, executive director of Voices for Georgia's Children, an Atlanta-based nonprofit that advocates for children in the state.
Since 2003, the organization has worked to bring public awareness to issues facing Georgia's children, focusing on their safety, health, education, connectivity and employability.
"Georgia has never climbed above the rank of 39," Willis says. "We have languished in the bottom quartile. Until we get into the middle of the pack, I don't think we should be allowed to breathe."
Willis has her work cut out for her. Georgia slid to 44th in the country, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation's 2006 Kids Count survey.
"We talk a lot about economic indicators of the state being so much higher ranked than our children are," Willis says. "We have got to find a way to move children's outcomes to higher levels regardless of poverty status. We just have to bite the bullet and commit to doing it."
For Georgians with children, the statistics are startling. But even the business world has reason to take notice.
"If a business is to sustain itself in terms of quality workers and civic engagement, then it's the kids that are going to make a difference in the future," Willis says.
"There is significant research ... that says high-quality early programs for 3- and 4-year-olds will increase the graduation rate, reduce the crime rate, and increase the capacity for wages and salaries in the future."
This year, the organization released Children's Policy Watch: 2005 Legislative Review, a study examining legislative session initiatives for impact on outcomes for children and support for recent youth policy and direction.
"It really became very clear to us when we started tracking legislation and budget around kids' issues that there is no common platform for children's issues," Willis says.
"In spite of the fact that there were 240 bills that had an impact on kids in the '05 session and another 200 in the '06 session, there was no group of legislators who were really looking across those bills.
"It's time for our children to be at least as well off as our state," she adds. "Georgia is the 10th best place for business in the country. I would like it to be at least the 10th best place for children to grow up."