As families and communities recover from the pandemic, poll shows that federal, state, and local government should put a priority on helping children and families get back on track.
Today, the Voices for Children Coalition, together with lawmakers and local leaders held a press conference to discuss the results of a new poll in Delaware County. Voices for Children’s organizational home is CASA Youth Advocates. The poll of 606 registered Delaware County voters in March 2021 found that county voters support increasing local government funding for a variety of social services and believe that programs for children should be increased.
Voters put the highest priority on services for children who are abused or neglected (76% support) but also prioritize mental health and drug/alcohol services, education, health care access, and protection from domestic violence.
“With society finally emerging from this long, difficult time, we at VFCC wanted to take a snapshot of how the people of Delaware County viewed the status of our children and their well-being, their priorities for what our children need, and how the pandemic may have affected our children,” said Leigh Anne McKelvey, Executive Director of CASA Youth Advocates of Delaware and Chester Counties. “What we found is that there is widespread concern about the effect the pandemic had on children’s well-being and that people want our children to be a priority going forward.”
“Like millions of families across the United States, residents of Delaware County are concerned about the lasting impact of COVID-19 on their children’s health and well-being,” said Congresswoman Mary Gay Scanlon (PA-05). “The past year has, without a doubt, deeply affected our young people. Their education and mental health were impacted. Their families are having difficulty meeting basic needs like food, medicine, and child care.”
“As we work to make a full recovery from the pandemic, it is critical that we invest in our children and families. President Biden’s American Families Plan will make historic investments in the middle class, ensuring that children can get the care and good education they need to thrive and that parents can get back into the workforce to power America’s economy,” Congresswoman Scanlon added. “It would make transformational investments in education, provide direct support to families in the form of nutrition assistance and other programs, and extend key tax cuts – including the expanded Child Tax Credit, Earned Income Tax Credit, Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit, and health insurance tax credits. I am committed to improving the lives of families in my district, and I look forward to working with my colleagues in Congress to deliver much-needed resources to our communities.”
When voters are asked about issues specifically facing children in Delaware County, a few issues stand out as highest priorities, but voters identify a very broad range as worthy of attention:
K-12 education, mental illness, and drug/alcohol abuse are top-of-mind with voters for local elected officials to address: 33% of voters put K-12 education in their top three issues for children and 31% put mental illness and drug/alcohol abuse among young people in their top three.
Other important issues facing children in the area—around one in five voters put child abuse and neglect, poverty, nutrition, racial inequality, special education, child care, and health care in their top three issues.
“Delaware County Council is committed to ensuring that families have the resources they need to live healthy lives,” said Delaware County Council Vice Chair Dr. Monica Taylor. “Good health includes safety, physical health, mental health, and social wellbeing. We know this takes an investment into the services we offer the residents of our community. We know it takes dedicated and trained staff who work in these fields and strong partnerships with organizations that offer services and support to children. We believe this is a very worthy and vital investment.”
The poll results are critical in understanding county voters’ priorities for the region at a time when Delaware County is set to receive $110 million in federal American Recovery Plan (ARP) dollars, which are intended for County use to help communities hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. In addition, Pennsylvania state officials must decide how to spend $7.3 billion in federal recovery dollars, as well as state revenues that are currently $2.9 billion ahead of original estimates. This polling shows that additional federal investment going beyond the ARP children is widely supported.
“This survey shows the near consensus of people who want to prioritize children and invest in their safety, their mental wellness, in their nutrition, and in their schools,” Donna Cooper, Executive Director of Public Citizens for Children and Youth (PCCY), a Voices for Children partner. “One of the best things about this survey is its timing. The county, municipalities, school districts, and the Commonwealth have extraordinary resources this year from the American Rescue Plan. We urge local, county and state elected officials to heed the call of their own citizens to make investments immediately to improve conditions for our children.”
Should additional funding be available to local government, children at risk of abuse and neglect are seen as the most important: 81% say that it’s very important that additional local government funding should help this group. Children in foster care (70% very important), children with special needs (74%), and children in low-income families (70%) are also seen as the most important uses.
“Senator Kearney is grateful to Voices for Children for conducting this poll so we can better understand Delco residents’ concerns,” said Alex Christy, District Director for Senator Tim Kearney. “We know that meeting basic needs and getting access to mental health services were already hard for Delco families before the pandemic, that it worsened during the pandemic, and that it won’t simply disappear with the virus. These should be the top priority for leaders on the federal, state, and local levels.”
The poll results show that Delaware County voters believe government leaders should spend these dollars where they will have the most impact – on social services for children and families in their own backyard.