" "
Need help? Dial 2-1-1 to contact a United Way call center specialist or click here to find resources.


What about the children in poverty?

October 17, 2019

Phyllis Martin, head of community impact and strategic investments

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child. This landmark human rights treaty sets out the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of every child, regardless of their race, religion or abilities.

30 years. I am getting old. I was 23 when the convention was adopted.

Sitting here today, I can’t help but wonder what happened over the course of 30 years to the roughly 17 percent of children born into poverty in the US in 1989. I can’t help but wonder if we did enough to make sure those children had enough to eat each and every day, or if they received regular dental or health screenings (critical for development and self-esteem). I wonder if the 17 percent had a consistent roof over their heads, or a home filled with books, or any of the things that children NEED – not want, but NEED in order to grow and thrive.

When I got into this work almost 30 years I ago, I was certain I could make a difference in the lives of children and families struggling to make ends meet. With each organization I worked for I became more and more convinced we could absolutely change conditions, provide programs, and alter mental models so children and families understood the significance of promoting, protecting and fulfilling children’s rights.

But, my real “aha” moment came back in 2010 when a volunteer (who just happened to be an elected official) looked at me and said “Phyllis, we have been working on these issues for five years. While we have been talking, studying, and thinking about what to do, and arguing about the best way to do it, the children born into poverty five years ago are now in kindergarten. And we missed them. They likely didn’t have access to high-quality early learning experiences. Their parents did not have access to the job training and education needed to move them to better paying jobs. We did nothing about the fiscal cliff. We did not build affordable housing to ensure stability. We haven’t helped families build social capital and we certainly have not connected people to the issues.”

That hit me in the gut – hard.

That statement also led me to continuously ask what I believe to be the salient question: do we have the will to do whatever it takes to ensure the rights of children even if it means changing our paradigms, understanding of the issues and listening to those we say we want to help?

Take a minute to really think about that question — your response makes a difference.

In particular, the Convention recognizes the right of every child to a standard of living adequate for the child’s physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development. The Convention recognizes these rights because poverty hurts children’s development and, in turn, leads to lower income and health in adulthood. When child poverty is recognized as a denial of children’s human rights, then people in positions of responsibility and power are legally bound to promote, protect and fulfil children’s rights.

To live better, we must live United.

Please join United Way of Northeast Florida in its endeavor to promote, protect and fulfill children’s rights. With your help, United Way will provide children the resources to succeed in school and ensure access to comprehensive basic needs, such as safe housing, adequate food and access to health care. These initiatives will help children move from surviving to thriving.

It is our collective responsibility.

The kind of change we are talking about creating certainly does not happen alone. It doesn’t happen by looking at issues in isolation or by holding on to preconceived notions of big, scary, difficult issues like poverty, education, mental health or affordable housing.

It only happens when we are willing to come together – to act together – to connect to one another with the goal of empowering one another to end poverty.