Guest editorial: The pandemic will affect Utah’s children. Now’s the time to stand up for them. |

Guest editorial: The pandemic will affect Utah’s children. Now’s the time to stand up for them.

Moe Hickey
Voices for Utah Children CEO

At Voices for Utah Children we ask the question “Is it good for kids?” as a filter to guide the work we do on behalf of the children of Utah. We will all have to ask that question in the coming days and months. If the answer is “no,” then we all have to collectively become the voice of our children.

According to the most recent census estimates, 29.5% of our population was under the age of 18 compared with 22.4% of the total U.S. population in 2018. This makes Utah the youngest state in the country. We all need to come together to make sure that the needs of our children are being represented. We all need to speak on their behalf to guarantee them the future that they deserve!

Many of the most pressing issues arising from the current crisis will directly affect children and the safety nets in place to protect the most vulnerable. This is an opportunity to identify the gaps in our systems that have been exposed by COVID-19 and to take the necessary steps to fix them. It is prudent economically to invest in children — the younger the better — as it has been proven that we receive the best returns on these investments.

Utah is known to place a very high focus on family values. Now is the time to voice those values and invest in the following areas:

• Child care: We need to stabilize the system with short-term capital and then develop a clear plan as to what child care in Utah should look like in the future. We cannot contemplate opening the economy or our schools without having a safe and stable system in place for all families.

• Health care: We need to ensure that all children and parents have access to care. No family should be denied care during or after this crisis. No family should be afraid that treatment will result in medical debt. It is critical that the policies and resources are in place to ensure health disparities do not widen during this crisis.

• Education: The current crisis has highlighted to all of us the vital role that our public education system occupies in all our communities. It is going to take a herculean effort to reopen public education in the fall. Schools are going to be asked to be the primary safety net for many of our most vulnerable families. We all need to raise our voice to make sure that schools have all the resources they need to provide an equitable opportunity for all children.

• Mental health: We are seeing a rise in demand for mental health service statewide, with a large demand for young adults. We need to continue to invest in expanding services and developing a comprehensive plan to make sure that all children can access the support they need.

• Family economic stability: The financial impact of COVID-19 will increase poverty. This will have long-term consequences, especially among children. We need to enact proven policies to address poverty, such as an expanded earned income tax credit, to lift people out of the cycle of intergenerational poverty.

We acknowledge that there are many difficult challenges that we will have to face as a state. The decisions that are made during this time will reverberate immediately and for years to come. The children of Utah deserve to be given a voice and we ask all adults to be that voice. In the words of Marian Wright Edelman, “The question is not whether we can afford to invest in every child; it is whether we can afford not to.” There are currently budgets being discussed that would dramatically cut funding for many critical programs. Now is the time to use the “rainy day fund” and to provide the necessary resources to ensure the safety and future of our children.

Please contact your legislators and let them know that you appreciate the difficult task they are facing, but that cutting funding for services affecting children is not something you support.

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