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Kennedy's Efforts Must Stay in Spotlight


Low-income families must not end up at the bottom of the to-do list.

With the passing of Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy, the nation lost a patriot; and the poor lost their most influential advocate.

With the power of his name and reputation, Sen. Kennedy was able to elevate debate on issues that can easily find their way to the bottom of the Congressional to-do list. Helping the poor is expensive and, often, it's politically unpopular.

Were it not for Sen. Kennedy's commitment to causes such as health care and education, generations of families would have been stuck in the malaise that poverty brings. I know this because much of the success of The Children's Aid Society can be attributed to programs Sen. Kennedy spearheaded.

Early Head Start, the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) and nurse-family partnerships all exist because Sen. Kennedy's bulwark stance led these initiatives from good ideas into life-changing federal laws.

A little about how influential these programs have been: Early Head Start programs focus on pregnant women and children ages three and under who come from low-income families. Children who go through this program routinely show better cognitive development, larger vocabularies, and more advanced social-emotional development than their peers by age three.

In adulthood, Head Start graduates are also less likely to be charged with a crime, be dependent on welfare, or repeat grades in school. In fact, one study showed that for every $1 invested in Head Start, $9 is saved in government program spending.

Thanks to programs like SCHIP, children receive the immunizations and doctor check-ups that save them from illness. And when kids aren't sick, they can be in school. More time in school leads to a better education.

Sen. Kennedy has left an important legacy, and I hope that other political leaders will continue his journey toward better health care and education for all. So much has been done, yet so much more remains. I challenge today's leaders to pick up Sen. Kennedy's torch and move his crusade to the next level by focusing on the lives of today's families.

Working mothers need better health care and job protections that allow them to stay home when their children are sick -- without fear of being fired. We need to find ways to help mothers stay at home with their children during those early, formative years if they want to, and make quality day care more accessible to those who choose to return to work.

We also need to emphasize the father-child relationship and encourage those fathers who are not pulling their weight to do more.

These issues aren't sexy or glamorous. They're common, everyday problems, and are the thoughts that keep many low-income parents up at night with worry. Kiley Kennedy said it best as she eulogized her grandfather: "The poor may be out of political fashion, but they are never without human need … Circumstances may change, but the work of compassion must continue."

The politics of compassion -- of, dare I say, empathy -- can propel our society to the next level.

Look at the causes your company supports, and ask if any of them are focused on helping families succeed. Focusing on families will strengthen your workforce, your community, and help bring us closer to the world Sen. Kennedy envisioned: one where "The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dreams shall never die."
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