Last month I had the privilege to say a few words at the start of the first meeting of GMA’s Children and Youth Advisory Council. I wanted to be there to let them know that the GMA leadership enthusiastically supported the creation of the council, and that we were 100 percent behind their efforts. My hope is that the entire GMA membership will be, too.
The future of our communities and state is found in the lives of our children and youth. Yet the issues many of them face are significant. One in four kids in Georgia live in poverty while one in five are food insecure. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for Georgia children aged 10-17. An estimated 45,500 of our children and youth experience homelessness each year, while nearly 15,000 are in the state’s child welfare system. Sixty-three percent of our third graders could not read proficiently at the end of the 2018 school year. And nearly 27,000 children in our state were victims of substantiated child abuse or neglect in 2015.
The advisory council, which is chaired by East Point Mayor Deana Holiday Ingraham, has been charged to recommend programs, training, research and other initiatives that can be undertaken by GMA and the association’s newly created 501(c)(3), Georgia City Solutions (GCS) and to foster the exchange of ideas and information on programs that have proven to have made a positive impact on children and youth.
Just as importantly, the advisory council will explore opportunities for collaboration between GMA and GCS with agencies and organizations whose mission focuses on assisting children and youth. There is no expectation for GMA or GCS to create programs or initiatives that other groups are already undertaking. We do believe, however, that cities and city officials have a valuable and oftentimes underutilized role in supporting and focusing local efforts on these important issues.
For example, what cities are traditionally known to do—providing public safety services, parks and recreation opportunities, investing in infrastructure and so on—are key to creating safe and vibrant communities. But so too is what city officials and other community leaders do each day when engaging with the children and youth of our communities. The work that we and other community partners do to provide healthy outcomes for our children and youth is no less vital an activity for creating safe and vibrant communities than those more traditional activities cities engage in.
As we start this effort, it is important for us to realize that the issues our young people face aren’t for them to face alone, as these are the issues we must also face and more importantly, address. In order for those of us elected to serve our communities and want the best for our children and youth, we must be willing to stand with them and give them our best.
This article appears in the March/April 2020 edition of Georgia’s Cities Magazine.