Focusing on the Future by Supporting Children in the Present

I have to admit that sitting behind a desk at DC Action for Children as an advocate for our youngest citizens is a bit unexpected for me. I had always imagined that I would become an investigator diving into the comorbid world of mental illness and drug addiction. After graduating with a BS in Psychology, continuing on to achieve a Master’s of Health Science with a concentration in Mental Health and then solidifying a research assistant position at Yale University, I believed that I was right on track. My assumption was wrong.

In my Social Welfare PhD program, I found that the required theory and practice courses consistently emphasized the importance of positive childhood experiences (including access to effective early childhood programs and educational institutions), the influence of the parent-child attachment relationship and the long-term effects that early trauma can have on the lifespan. Layered on top of this were policy courses that stressed the importance of creating and implementing policies which utilized the voices and needs of those most affected. Though much of this knowledge was nothing new, I (finally) consciously acknowledged that a majority of successful and healthy adults had access to fruitful childhoods. This stayed with me.

As a policy analyst in Connecticut working to empower low-income families in overcoming barriers that influence the life trajectory, it became vividly clear that the resources children have access to vary dramatically based on income and geography. Additionally, as Connecticut is composed of 169 different towns that vary significantly by race, class, life situation and access to opportunity, any support offered to children is seldom tailored to the specific needs of the individual child. For example, around 40% of children impacted by parental incarceration within Connecticut reside in one of the five largest cities. Yet, a majority of those children and their families have to travel, often by bus, over 4 hours round-trip into the countryside just to see their incarcerated parent for an hour. This separation of child and incarcerated parent is not only a “Connecticut-problem”, but one that exists throughout the country. Simply stated, having a meaningful attachment relationship with both parents at an early age is critical to educational success and healthy future social relationships with peers. Bringing attention and action to issues that most often impact already underserved children, like access to incarcerated parents, are crucial for fostering the development and well-being of our children.

Though my youth-focused advocacy and policy work began in Connecticut, I’m thrilled that it has allowed me to transition to DC Action. My colleagues know that childhood is a crucial period where physical, emotional and social growth occurs. The knowledge that they provide to our councilmembers and local executive branch is fact-based and data-driven. It is incredibly exciting to be at a place where data, research and evaluation are used to inform both policy and programs – and I cannot wait to dive in!