Add a Child-Impact Statement to the State Budget

You've heard of environmental-impact statements. Why not child-impact statements?

There should be a check mark next to every state budget decision signifying that it doesn't harm our most valuable asset.

But why stop there? Let's make children — especially our youngest and poorest children — the focus of public policy in Arkansas. Every decision should not only not harm them, it should benefit them so that they can grow up healthy, wealthy and wise.

The state budget should come with a companion statement that shows how every category of spending impacts children and their families. Child-centered programs would be analyzed by their impact on children, with details on how they benefit particular age groups, income groups and races. It should include county-level analysis and trends over time.

Whenever lawmakers consider a spending bill — whether for highways, corrections, economic development, tax breaks, health care, or some other area — the first question asked should be: "Is this going to benefit our children?"

Even better: Arkansas should have a comprehensive, long-term plan for improving the well-being of each child, especially the most vulnerable. It should include the most reliable indicators and statistics on child well-being and only the best, research-based solutions to problems affecting children. One example is the nationwide Kids Count Data Book produced annually by the Annie E. Casey Foundation (in which Arkansas is ranked above only Mississippi and Washington, D.C.).

The plan would identify what it would take for Arkansas to become the best state in the nation for kids to grow up in. It would include steps we'd need to take during the next two, five and 10 years to improve the life of every child — similar to the goals of cutting poverty in half in 10 years that a legislative task force on poverty recently outlined.

A permanent state commission on children and families would monitor our progress and report back to voters on how well elected officials performed. It could even be led by a children's tsar, who'd constantly remind our leaders of our top priority.

Rich Huddleston is executive director of Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families.

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