Practicing Our Faith by Pursuing Systemic Change for Children

By Sr. Beth LeValley, SSJ (Greater Rochester Community of Churches/Faith in Action Network), Rev. Dr. Marvin McMickle (President, Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School), and Dr. Muhammad Shafiq (Executive Director, Hickey Center for Interfaith Studies and Dialogue at Nazareth College).

The Children’s Agenda is celebrating its 10th anniversary with 10 blog posts from community leaders committed to making the next 10+ years a decade of dramatic change and achievement for kids. Click here to learn more. This month’s installment is about the call for every person of faith to take action to improve our children’s health and well-being.

In each of our holy books, followers are instructed to care for others, especially the vulnerable. Who is most vulnerable if not our children?

Faith leaders delivering signed letters to New York State and Monroe County officials

Faith leaders delivering signed letters to New York State and Monroe County officials

The three of us come from different traditions, but we stand united in our common concern for the children of Monroe County. Week after week in our places of worship, we see so much promise and hope in their beautiful faces. Yet we also see stress and other effects of poverty, inadequate education, structural racism, and poor health care that impact the whole family.

Moved by compassion, we offer families emotional and spiritual support as well as material aid in the form of food, clothing, and other essentials. But our job is not done unless we also speak publicly about these pervasive struggles, and seek changes to public policy and funding that will enable these precious children to live with dignity.

We are all involved in The Children’s Agenda’s Interfaith Collaborative because we are compelled to practice our faith not just in our mosques, temples, and churches, but also by taking our commitment to justice and compassion to the public sphere, to legislative chambers, budget hearings, and other public forums.

Building on Greater Rochester’s rich history of interfaith dialogue and cooperation, this is a group that adds action-oriented collaboration. The passion and moral strength of faith community members, combined with The Children’s Agenda’s policy expertise and focus on evidence-based solutions, creates a formidable force.

The Children’s Agenda has an “all-hands-on-deck” attitude toward organizing champions to advocate for the programs and services that work for our young people. Local faith leaders have spoken out on behalf of vulnerable children for many years. Now, with the support of The Children’s Agenda’s Interfaith Collaborative, we are more effective as we coordinate efforts and speak with a unified voice.

The Children’s Agenda, which is celebrating its 10th “birthday” in 2014, offers a concrete way for faith communities to express their support for children through the annual Children’s Interfaith Weekend, planned this year for October 17-19, or an alternative October weekend. Last year, 93 congregations—Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, and Buddhist—held their own worship services to pray for children, learn how local children are faring, and identify actions to take.

For many congregants, the action involved signing a letter requesting increased County funding for child care subsidies for low-income, working families. Recent media stories remind us what can happen when child care is unreliable and parents are forced to choose between holding down a job and caring for their children. Child care subsidies, which supplement parent co-payments, enable families to choose high-quality care settings that prepare children for school and allow parents to be more reliable and productive employees. Investments in young children benefit not just that individual child and his/her parents, but our whole community by helping prevent problems like school failure, juvenile crime, and teen pregnancy. Children who receive high-quality child care early in life are much more likely to graduate from high school and college.

Despite ample research demonstrating the value of early care, the number of child care subsidies available locally has been cut in half, from 13,950 in 2001 to 6,747 in 2013.

During the 2014 Children’s Interfaith Weekend, many congregations will sign advocacy letters directed to New York State officials requesting increased state funding for child care assistance.

We invite you to join us, in both prayer and action. If you are a leader or a member of a faith community, contact The Children’s Agenda to get started.

We encourage faith communities to register for the Children’s Interfaith Weekend and add their voice to others as we pursue proven changes that will improve the health and well-being of local children and youth.

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