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Kelly Smith, Published January 29 2009

Advocates urge parents to be voice for kids

Child advocates say local parents need to become more organized and vocal about statewide issues that affect kids.

“The more we can get people active in the process and to hold your legislators accountable for what happens in Bismarck,” said Children’s Defense Fund Regional Director Jim Koppel. “We have to get organized as a voice for children ... and we have to get that message out.”

Koppel urgently directed that message Wednesday during a public forum in Fargo, attended by more than two dozen people. The group has hosted a series of such forums statewide.

At the forum, representatives of the Children’s Defense Fund, a national child advocacy group, and the North Dakota KIDS COUNT organization addressed issues affecting North Dakota children, including child care, health insurance or poverty assistance.

“(Even) with the best parenting, we need to have policies in place – like public education, like health care, like safe places to leave our children when we work,” Koppel said. “Parents should expect that in a society that has so much value for families. We need to build those programs in North Dakota.”

Bolstering his message, Koppel said more than 14,000 North Dakota children are not receiving health care coverage.

Eligibility in the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, a federal program that covers some uninsured children, has been increasing. And yet, there are still many left without because “the poverty level is set so incredibly low,” said Polly Fassinger of North Dakota KIDS COUNT.

To be eligible for the program, people have to be under a certain poverty level – one of the lowest levels in the nation, Fassinger said, meaning if a person earns more than the set poverty level they wouldn’t qualify for the program. “It hasn’t changed in decades,” she said.

Fassinger and other presenters said they hope discussing children’s issues may inspire policymakers to make some changes.

But, Koppel added, the public can make a difference by rallying those policymakers to support these issues.

“Whether or not kids get helped with (these issues) is happening behind closed doors,” he said of legislation. “It’s important to act.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kelly Smith at (701) 241-5515