Last December I had the great honor of taking the helm at Advocates for Children and Youth. As I approach my 90th day with this amazing organization, I have spent a lot of time thinking about where we are – and where we need to be.
ACY celebrated its 30th Anniversary last year. This is an impressive milestone, and one that happens because of the hard work of so many – from our founder, Susan Leviton, to the staff, board, and supporters who contributed to our work over the decades. That legacy is one that has helped children and youth in Maryland tremendously. We have been at the forefront of fights that created transformative improvements to the foster care system, increased school funding for our public schools, established some of the first health and dental insurance programs for children, and called out the massive incarceration of youth – and especially youth of color – in our justice system.
In that time we have dutifully tracked hundreds of indicators (104 and climbing!) and used that data to develop robust policy recommendations. We have built, participated in, and led coalitions. And we have rolled up our sleeves during the legislative session, working the halls of Annapolis to pass reforms.
While this work will always be the core of ACY, the challenges we face in this moment are unprecedented. And our solutions must be as well. Whether we look at the data on poverty, school funding, or youth incarceration, the numbers continue to show that too many children and youth never have the chance to realize their potential. And too many of those outcomes are driven by factors well outside our children’s control – the starkly disparate outcomes we see are being driven by race and the legacy of racism in this county and this state.
Maryland is not alone in facing these challenges, and ACY does not work alone in tackling them. We must continue to collect and analyze the data, but acknowledge that data alone is not enough; we have to combine the data with new communications tools to tell the story in a more compelling way. We must continue to focus on systemic policy change, but ensure that the policies we prioritize are the ones that will dismantle the barriers creating unequal opportunity for children. Perhaps most importantly, we must take the next step – one of not speaking for children and youth, but sharing our resources so that our youth and our communities can speak for themselves.
With your help, and continued support, ACY will continue to fill its mission, and its niche: improving the lives and experiences of Maryland’s children through policy change and program improvement. I look forward to working with all our partners and supporters – both ones we currently know and the ones we hope to build new relationships with – as we fight for our children and youth with a renewed sense of collaboration, focus, and urgency.
-Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, Executive Director