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Statement for Betsy Clark Step Up for Kids – National Press Club – Every Child Matters

September 16, 2008

As I travel around the country representing the National Association of Social Workers, I meet many social workers who work with clients and communities in different capacities. Many of these social workers have dedicated their lives to serving those living in poverty, particularly children.

How do families become impoverished? We know that 13 million children live below the poverty line. We also know that another 16 million children are living in low income households. Did their parents fall victim to tough economic times? Did they lose their jobs? Were the prices of food and gas too much for their budgets to handle?

Is the cost associated with healthcare in this country more than they could afford? Were they affected by a natural disaster?

In this country, we are familiar with urban poverty. We see the pan handlers and the projects. We see the run-down schools and playgrounds. We manage to look away – we try not to see the poverty that exists in our midst.

A few months ago, I visited rural eastern Kentucky, far into Appalachia. I also recently met with a large group of social workers for an American Indian nation. I was struck by the enormous needs of the rural poor, who are nearly invisible to society because they are hidden from us. We don’t know about it, so we don’t think about it.

Yet, poverty – in all its ugliness –affects those who are the most vulnerable — children and older Americans — regardless of where they live.

Through interventions such as Social Security, Medicare, and other support programs, government has made significant investments in working toward reducing the number of older people living in poverty. But, those who have yet to find their voice – children living in poverty – need similar action taken on their behalf. Because we have not provided comparable programs to all children, the cycle of poverty continues.

As society’s safety net, social workers by necessity must serve children and their families, and connect them to the resources and supports that they need. But, what happens when those supports are not available or are received too late? The investments made for children and families before they reach the poverty line are far less costly than those interventions necessary when we allow a family fall into poverty.

Social workers tirelessly advocate in federal and state legislatures for individuals, families and communities to fund supports for children and families. They provide services in your hospitals, your schools, your clinics, and your social service agencies. They serve your parents, your relatives, your neighbors, and your children.

As a representative for the 600,000 practicing social workers across this country, I call on our federal government to make the investments needed so that children do not have to wonder when they will eat again, where they will sleep, where they will go to school and if they will be able to go to the doctor if they are sick.

As I meet with social workers across this country, I am proud of their dedication to those living in poverty, particularly to the children who do not have a choice or a voice. We call on the candidates running for office during this important election to make children and families a priority in their platforms, and then to keep the promises they make to better these lives after they are elected.

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