May offers a good time to think about what kids need and how those needs overlap. In our office and among our coalitions this month, while we prepare our 2011 legislative agenda, we find that doing the right thing by kids in one area of their lives promotes wellbeing in other ways, too.
Take the National Day to Prevent Teen Pregnancy today, for example. The day reminds us that Texas has a long way to go to bring down its high rate of teen births (and the nation's highest rate of repeat births to girls). Of course, addressing unplanned teen pregnancies would be good for Texas youth, but it would also likely lead to better health outcomes for babies in our state. That's because teen mothers are less likely to seek prenatal care, breastfeed, and follow other recommended practices in infant health, and young mothers are more vulnerable to raising their children in poverty. As our policy paper on Texas children and the recession notes, many teen moms drop out of school, leading to lower lifetime income for their family and a tough childhood.
This is also Children's Mental Health Awareness Week and National Foster Care Month. If those issues sound niche, they aren't. All children have mental, social, and emotional needs, which are honored in the first of those two observances. And any discussion of child wellbeing needs to take into account the tens of thousands of Texas kids in foster care, who were abused or neglected by a caregiver. They are among our state's most vulnerable.
While we face a lot of challenges for children, we also have the capacity to meet those challenges head-on. There are clear, cost-effective choices we as a state can make to improve conditions—not just in one area of life, but across the board—for children. In doing so, the positive effects will go beyond just children, too, creating a better Texas for everyone.
Last winter, we asked kids themselves to share their ideas about how to make Texas even better. With ideas about getting out the vote, cleaning our environment, expanding housing, and investing in education, all of our winning submissions produced a beautiful vision of coming together for a better tomorrow. I want to close with an excerpt from one letter, sent by Lindale Junior High eighth-grader Hayley Ilene Spires, to candidates for governor:
I assume that all governors wish to leave their state a better place. That's why you're here. But I'm asking you to do one more thing. If elected governor, leave open a door behind you, a door of opportunity… For my part, I can promise you…that if given the opportunity my peers and I will walk through that door and make Texas proud, better than we found it.