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My experience with the UVC Board

September 13, 2021

Grant Swanson

Over the past two years, it has been an honor and a privilege to serve on the United Voices for Children board. I am a Deacon in the United Methodist Church who serves as the Recruitment Coordinator at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary for my primary appointment and at Urban Village Church, Chicago, for my secondary appointment. As a Deacon, I understand my vocational call under the broad umbrella of educational ministry. United Voices for Children has enabled me to uniquely live into that call through social media community organizing, partnership building with a new advocacy organization, and deepening relationships with our child-serving agencies.

When I joined the board, there was a desire for an increased and consistent presence on social media. As someone who generates social media posts for work, this was a natural fit for me. Through our brainstorming sessions together as a board, we decided that building a community of advocates for the mission and work of UVC through social media platforms would have a greater impact than just producing more content. As a result, I formulated a proposal for a ‘Social Media Ambassador’ program that was unanimously approved by the board. After two intentional recruitment campaigns, we now have over two dozen Social Media Ambassadors who are committed to sharing UVC-generated social media posts twice a week through their networks. Not only has this been a great way to disperse relevant information regarding childhood advocacy and ways to be involved with UVC, but it has been a great way to connect with folks who are passionate about the flourishing of our children, their families, and our communities. If this excites you, please reach out to unitedvoicesforchildren@gmail.com to volunteer as a Social Media Ambassador today!

Another wonderful pursuit of the board has been building a new relationship with Voices for Illinois Children, an independent organization that utilizes data and research to intentionally advocate for particular policies and resources for Illinois children and their families. This partnership has enabled UVC to be more aware of the raw numbers, data, and tangible challenges facing our children and families in Illinois, as well as to know what policies, legislation, and other initiatives to champion in order to address those challenges. Through our work with Voices for Illinois Children, we recognized the need for a designated staff member on the board to intentionally focus our policy/legislative advocacy work. As a result, the brilliant Rev. Beverly Dukes joined us as the UVC Public Policy Coordinator. Rev. Dukes’ work has been shaping how UVC puts our mission into practice both in the present and future. It is so exciting to see our board move evermore in this direction under Rev. Dukes leadership.

The greatest joy of my time on the UVC board has been building a deeper relationship with our three partner child-serving agencies: Kids Above All, MYSI, and Rosecrance. These incredible organizations are doing invaluable work in our communities to ensure the flourishing of our children and their families. Each partner agency has an amazing representative on the board who reports about their agency’s business at each meeting. Being able to learn about the vital ministry work going on in our city through these agencies and discover the ways in which we, as individuals, as a board, and as a Church, can support the agencies in this work, is life-giving and inspiring. Furthermore, connecting the work, initiatives, and information coming from our agencies with our Social Media Ambassadors’ networks has been a great way to disseminate information and ways to participate even more widely. Kids Above All, MYSI, and Rosecrance are a blessing to Illinois children and their families. It has been a joy witnessing and participating in their work first hand through the UVC board.

Finally, being a part of the UVC board community of colleagues has been a pure delight. Each of my colleagues is involved in the ministry of child-advocacy in unique and vital ways. My time on the board has not only enabled me to live into my vocational call of educational ministry, but it has established deep and long lasting friendships, challenged me to grow as a person and child advocate, and connected me with a network of holy troublemakers with whom I plan to serve long into the future.

Are you passionate about child advocacy and the flourishing of Illinois children and their families? Please inquire about the board nomination process today by emailing unitedvoicesforchildren@gmail.com. We are always on the lookout for new change agents and child advocates to join our mission and vision at UVC!

Public policy for struggling children and families

August 23, 2021

After being in this pandemic for almost two years, many vulnerable children and families are still struggling. It is critically important for faith communities to advocate for public policies that support children and families to counter the effects from both the pandemic and poverty. Therefore, we must tell our political leaders to support policies that sustain and strengthen the overall well-being of children and families. We must urge our legislators to work collectively on behalf of these vulnerable members of our communities.

Supporting effective and life-giving public policies is how we can eradicate poverty, systemic racism, and the dire effects from this pandemic. This fight to level the playing field, and to provide every child the opportunity to be their very best, starts with good public policies such as the Child Tax Credit and The American Rescue Plan. These policies not only support vulnerable families but can change the trajectory of their lives.

Because these policies have the potential for alleviating the burden of poverty for so many children and families, let us do our part as the collective faith community and advocate for vulnerable children and families. Let us do our part tell our members of Congress to support public policies that help children and families. Let us do our part tell others to advocate for the needs of children and families. It is up to all of us to help children and families. Let us collectively do God’s good work.    

Rev. Beverly Dukes, UVC Public Policy Coordinator

Make the Most of Another Pandemic-Impacted School Year

August 14, 2021

Submitted by Emily Lipinsky, Director of Development for the Rosecrance Foundation and Vice President UVC Board

As summer vacation winds down for students, a third pandemic-impacted school year approaches. Uncertainty and anxiety linger as people balance a wide range of priorities, including mental and emotional needs, to return to once-familiar ways of life, milestone celebrations and support systems.

During times of disruption, youth are more likely to be affected by mental health issues and use of negative coping skills such as substance use. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that mental-health-related emergency room visits for adolescents ages 12-17 increased by 31 percent last year, and suicide attempts of girls were more than 50 percent higher from late February to late March 2021 compared to the same time in 2019.

“While some youth have the resiliency and coping skills to adjust to circumstances, many are struggling,” said Rosecrance Director of Outreach Mary Egan. “Those youth really have missed the structure, accountability, and connections of a school routine. Even though we’re trying to go back to normal, we can’t expect life and supports to immediately go back to what they were before the pandemic.”

Here are a few suggestions to help families begin the year strong:

  • Watch for any behavior change, mood swings, altered sleep or eating patterns, or self-harm.
  • Without becoming a helicopter parent, monitor children’s web and social media use for inappropriate content or conversations.
  • Have open, honest conversations about current events and life stress as a family. If the adults are honest about their struggles, it will be easier for children to share their feelings.
  • If you don’t feel comfortable discussing something with family, reach out to a trusted professional. For adults, that could be a counselor, therapist, or religious leader. For youth, that could be a school counselor or social worker.
  • Take an occasional break. A walk, quick workout, mindfulness activities, reading books for fun, and other hobbies are excellent stress relievers.

In addition, Rosecrance offers a robust continuum of resources in the Back to School Virtual Resources Toolkit and Rosecrance Virtual hub that families and education professionals can utilize throughout the year. The back-to-school toolkit provides useful information such as a treatment roadmap, signs and symptoms of behavioral health issues, answers to frequently asked questions, and an introduction to the Rosecrance Café parent support group.

At the virtual hub, you will find information about assessments, prevention and early intervention (PEI), intensive outpatient therapy (IOP), interventions, the Rosecrance Family Program, the Alumni program, and a library of video presentations. Many of these services also are available in person.

In addition, we invite you to listen to the “On Your Radar” podcast. This is an ongoing series of conversations with Rosecrance experts hosted by WGN radio personality John Williams. The first six episodes in the series focus on substance use and mental health topics related to adolescents and their families.

“Working with teens can be difficult sometimes, and that is why it is so important to work together to support them,” Egan said. “When parents, families, schools, and behavioral health experts collaborate, it is easier to remove barriers to lasting recovery.”

2021 Illinois Kids Count Report Released

July 26, 2021

2021 Illinois KIDS COUNT ReportPoverty is a systemic and devastating economic condition that is pervasive throughout the United States. This adverse reality has a distressing effect on children, causing emotional, mental, and physical problems—and the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated an already difficult situation for children and their families. 

Voices for Illinois Children recently released is the 2021 Illinois KIDS COUNT Report, which examines child poverty before and during the pandemic through a multidimensional lens with analytical focuses on its many aspects. The information this report provides is essential for our continued efforts of child advocacy. The KIDS COUNT report will provide local congregations, missions, extended ministries, community organizers, constituents, stakeholders and other concerned citizens with information on why child poverty exists and how to eradicate it.

The work of social justice for Illinois’ children living in and below the poverty level can occur through our collective efforts. Our local churches and surrounding communities can do this work with God’s help so that every child in Illinois has enough resources and supports to be their best selves. The 2021 Illinois KIDS COUNT report is a tool and resource to assist all of us in this fight for social justice for every child living in Illinois and beyond. Click here to read the report.

Pastor Beverly Dukes, Policy Coordinator

A Step Towards Housing Security for Young Illinoisians

May 26, 2021

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, rates of homelessness and unstable housing skyrocketed throughout Illinois. With a loss of employment for many Illinoisians and a significant drop in income for many more, housing security has become a major problem.

Without secure, stable and safe housing, families with children can suffer physically, mentally and emotionally. Without stable housing, children and youth find it harder to perform well in school. In addition, children and youth without the security and stability of housing find it more difficult getting to school at all. When families are faced with housing insecurities, it deeply and negatively affects the lives of children and youth.

On Monday, May 17, 2021, Governor J.B. Pritzker signed into law bill HB2877. This new law provides resources to Illinoisians needing housing assistance and allows both Illinois renters and landlords to apply for assistance.

According to local news channel 1340 WJOL, “The Illinois Rental Payment Program (ILRPP) will deploy multiple rounds of funding totaling $1.1 billion to Illinois renters and landlords to prevent evictions. An additional $400 million in rental assistance will be provided by larger municipalities. The state will also be standing up a separate program to support homeowners with $400 million in mortgage assistance.”

This new law will change and save the lives of many families, children, and youth during times of peril. Let’s shared needed and valuable information with our congregations, our constituents, and residents in our communities. For more information about “The Illinois Rental Payment Program (ILRPP), please go to: illinoishousinghelp.org.

Respectfully,
Rev. Beverly Dukes
Policy Coordinator, United Voices for Children

Advocating for LGBTQIA students

May 18, 2021

Children and youth are more successful in school when their basic needs are met. Students need to feel safe and to be loved and accepted. They need opportunities to grow and excel. They deserve readily available resources that will address their educational and developmental needs. Unfortunately, this has not always been the case for children who identify with the LGBTQIA community. In several states, efforts have been made and policies are being put in place to stifle the growth and development of children who identify as LGBTQIA.

In a blog entry on childtrends.org, author Deborah Temkin explains how policies are implemented that have targeted students who have identified as LGBTQIA. Temkim explained:

 “Since the start of 2021, at least 32 state legislatures have proposed bills to authorize discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals. These bills range from:

  • Children’s access to gender-affirming health care.
  • Requiring active parental permission for any discussion of LGBTQ+ topics or people in public school classes.
  • At least 21 states, restricting the participation of transgender students in school athletics.”[1]

To ensure that all students are supported in school settings, more needs to be done to safeguard their overall health and development. This includes supporting students who are in the LGBTQIA community. When one child suffers or is not provided needed resources, we as a society suffer. Therefore, it is important for all of us to contact our elected officials in Washington, D.C. and to tell them support legislation that provides educational fairness and equality to students in the LGBTQIA community.

To learn more about educational fairness and equality for LGBTQIA students, visit childtrends.org.

Respectfully,

Rev. Beverly Dukes
Policy Coordinator, United Voices for Children

[1] Deborah Temkin, “Policies That Discriminate Against LGBTQ Students Are Not Aligned with Children Development Research,” in Trends Child (Publication Date: April 28, 2021) https://www.childtrends.org/blog/policies-that-discriminate-against-lgbtq-students-are-not-aligned-with-child-development-research

What HB 2170 Means for Illinois’ Children

March 25, 2021

During this past year, the coronavirus pandemic has had an impressionable and, in most situations, lasting impact on Illinois’ children. Many teachers, administrators, professionals, parents and caretakers have worked tirelessly to help their students succeed during these unprecedented times. Virtual learning and virtual classroom participation have become the norm in many school districts across Illinois. And even though parts of Illinois have begun to open, thereby allowing more school districts to allow some in-person instruction, the impact of the coronavirus has only exacerbated historic disparities that are widely known in our public-school districts. These disparities have unequivocally effected students of color.

House Bill 2170, which is supported by the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus, is designed to address these disparities and lack of resources effecting so many communities of color. On March 22, 2021, Governor J. B. Pritzker signed this bill into law. Overall, this law will provide needed resources to communities that need them the most. For example, now children who are enrolled and will be attending kindergarten must be evaluated to determine their level of need and preparedness for kindergarten. In additionally, early intervention services that are normally discontinued at the age of three are required to continue.

According to a March 10, 2021 article published by Shelby Bremer on the NBC Chicago website titled “HB 2170: What’s Included in the New Law Aimed at Improving Equity in Illinois’ Education System,” gaps in care will be addressed under this law. “Starting in 2022, children who receive early intervention services—support available to young children with developmental delays and disabilities—can continue to receive those services after the previous cut off age to three, up until the beginning of the next school year, if their birthday falls between May 1 and August 31, to help minimize gaps in care.”[1]

This new law only addresses a few inequalities in the Illinois Public School System. As constituents and advocates for Illinois children, it is crucial that we discuss this new law with our congregations and those in our communities. Let us give all Illinois children a fighting chance by hosting a church meeting to discuss this new law. Invite members of your church, community leaders, school professionals and those who are interested and support children. Collectively, we can be the change needed in so many of our children’s lives. Let us be that change.

More information regarding this new law is available at Illinois Voices for Children website. Click here for a statement from the IVC Executive Director.    

Rev. Beverly Dukes, MS., MDiv.
Policy Coordinator
United Voices for Children

Bibliography:

Shelby Bremer, “HB2170: What’s Included in the New Law Aimed at Improving Equity in Illinois Education System,” Channel Five News Chicago, updated March 10, 2021, https://www. HB 2170: What’s Included in the New Law Aimed at Improving Equity in Illinois’ Education System – NBC Chicago

[1] Shelby Bremer, “HB2170: What’s Included in the New Law Aimed at Improving Equity in Illinois Education System,” NBC Chicago, updated March 10, 2021, https://www. HB 2170: What’s Included in the New Law Aimed at Improving Equity in Illinois’ Education System – NBC Chicago

 

Let’s Get the Word Out: Child Tax Credit and EITC

March 8, 2021

The coronavirus pandemic has notably magnified some of this nation’s deepest disparities. These disparities are based on race, gender, ethnicity, and income level. It has unequivocally devastated our poorest residents, and those living in Black and Latino communities. These communities are more like to experience inequalities in health care, vaccine distribution, economic hardship, environmental pollution, congested living situation, and low wages.

Unfortunately, these disparities and challenges have created enormous stress on children and families.

Today, there are two tax credit provisions that can change the trajectory for many children and families facing hardships:  the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). According to the Center of Budget and Policy Priorities, “The current Child Tax Credit and EITC together lift more children above the poverty line, 5.5 million, than any other economic support program. This level of poverty reduction was achieved through multiple expansion of the EITC and Child Tax Credit since their respective enactments in 1975 and 1997.” (1) The Child Tax Credit is accessible to all children, but not our wealthiest residents. Also, Earned Income Tax Credit is accessible to low-wage earners, those living without children in their household often called, “childless worker.”(2)

Both tax credits will assist in tightest the wealth gap and will elevate many households out of poverty. These tax credits will provide our most always vulnerable children, families, and individuals with desperately needed resources and a chance to succeed.

Therefore, as advocates of change, share this invaluable information with families, persons in our churches, communities, and beyond. Host a resource meeting at your local churches for your communities, invite community organizers and others to discuss, and share this information. This is our time to be the change agents that are so desperately needed in the lives of so many children. Let us be that change.

Respectively,
Rev. Beverly Dukes, MS., MDiv.
Policy Coordinator
United Voices for Children

[1]  Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “House Way and Means COVID Relief Bill Includes Critical  Expansions of Child Tax Credit and EITC,” updated March 2, 2021, https://www.cbpp.org/research/federal-tax/house-covid-relief-bill-includes-critical-expansions-of-child-tax-credit-and.

[2] Ibid.

UVC Partner Highlights Important Legislative Issues

March 3, 2021

voice for illinois childrenOn February 23, our partner Illinois Voices for Children hosted a webinar on state finances. Nearly 100 attendees received an overview of the Governor’s budget proposal, the latest on the Federal debate over a new stimulus package, and the outlook on the FY22 budget and FY21 payments from the State comptrollers and State legislators. 

Click here to view a recording of the webinar. 

Children Still Count!

June 8, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the operational guidelines used by the US Census Bureau. Changes in the counting process to protect the health and safety of the American public and Census Bureau employees, implement guidance from federal, state, and local authorities regarding COVID-19 and ensure a complete and accurate count of all communities have a tremendous negative impact on already under represented and underserved groups. However, as conveners of communities and translators of culture, through intentional education and mobilization faith communities can make a significant positive difference in Census return rates.

The U.S. Census Bureau conducts a count of all the people living in the country. Mandated by the U.S. Constitution, the information is used for not only determining political representation but for determining how the federal government distributes money to states for health care, education, nutrition, and many other areas. Local governments use census data for determining housing and transportation needs. Businesses use census data to determine where to locate grocery stores, restaurants, pharmacies, and other retail establishments. It is important that the Census counts every Illinois resident.

The US Census brings resources to kids and families in your neighborhood. Let us make sure all communities get a full count and their fair share. See now your community is responding. An interactive census map of Northern Illinois Conference congregations and the return rate in their census tract is available at https://bit.ly/3fH3HXs.

The 2010 Census missed nearly 36,000 Illinois children under the age of five or just over 4% of children in that age range. Nationally, children under the age of five, are one of the most undercounted groups. By one estimate, the 2010 Census failed to account for one million children under the age of five nationally or 4.6% of children in this age group.1 Nearly one in five Illinois children (or 152,000 children) live in hard-to-count census tracts. When the Census misses those children, it impacts the federal funding for programs serving those children. 2

UVC has strengthened its position to be a catalyst for generating support for child serving agencies and conduit for information to equip congregations, by entering a strategic collaboration with Voices for Illinois Children. This collaboration leverages the years of research-based advocacy and outcome oriented programming of Voices for Illinois Children with the network of faith-based communities United Voices serves to increase the reach and amplify the voices of both organizations to advocate for children and families.

In the upcoming months, UVC Policy Coordinator, Rev. Beverly Dukes will be reaching out to Northern Illinois Conference congregations to share how, faith communities can impact US Census outcomes in a positive way.  The immediacy of the COVID-19 pandemic crisis has taken attention from the 2020 US Census, however the census is the “long game” to address the root causes of issues in communities hardest hit by the virus.

On Tuesday, June 9th at Raising Our Voices, hear more about the collaboration between Voices for Illinois Children and UVC including how your congregation can impact the 2020 US Census. Register for this on-line virtual celebration using this link https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_JKwC0S8mT0e6lhcIP5Dq4w

The Reverend Robert Biekman, Board President, United Voices for Children.

__________________________________________
Footnotes:
1 King H., Ihrke, D., and Jensen, E. (2018). “Subnational Estimates of Net Coverage Error for the Population Aged 0 to 4 in the 2010 Census.” U.S.
Census Bureau, Paper presented at the Population Association of America annual Conference, Denver, CO. April 2018.
2 The Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2018 KIDS COUNT Data Book.