SPRINGDALE -- A brainstorming session to raise awareness of children's needs drew at least 65 participants on Tuesday, mostly representatives of different assistance groups.
"I drove from Little Rock for this," said Josh Hays, Arkansas director for PepsiCo Food for Good, a part of the PepsiCo Foundation, which cooperates with local groups providing meals for children. "It's a networking opportunity, getting us out of our silos for a day."
The discussion was hosted by Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families. Springdale's event at the Ozarks Highland Nature Center is the first of five such events planned around the state, according to Arkansas Advocates' director for Northwest Arkansas, Laura Kellams.
Two 30-minute sessions had participants dividing themselves into groups to discuss topics such as health care for families with children, juvenile justice, immigrant family issues and racial equity. Solutions discussed included support for reducing the number of barriers to families receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, benefits. Arkansas has stricter limits on who can get this assistance than other states do, according to Kellams.
Postpartum Medicaid assistance for newborns and their mothers is limited to 60 days in Arkansas, according to Kellams. Extending those benefits to last for a year would improve the health of children and their mothers, she said.
Session participants interviewed said the event was valuable for the contacts made between like-minded groups. Arisbeth Garcia is coordinator of the Alas/Wings education and counselling program for Arkansas United, a nonprofit immigrant rights group in Springdale. She appreciated the chance to bring her group's issues to the attention of outside groups and be included in the discussion.
"I am really excited to be a voice for my community in this," she said.
Children's issues are everyone's issues and children advocacy groups need to emphasize that, Monique Jones, director of evangelism and outreach for the St. James Missionary Baptist Church, said during the meeting's open discussion.
Other issues discussed included how court fees and fines in the state's juvenile justice system create an additional debt burden for families who are already struggling, and how the covid pandemic overloaded the state's foster care system.
More events to discuss children’s needs are planned. Visit www.aradvocates.org/events for details on three more sessions. Another session in central Arkansas is set for June 2, but details are not finalized.
Source: Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families