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Spokane

Advocate highlights plight of youngest

Wed., April 22, 2009

Speaker calls for focus on early intervention

In Florida’s Miami-Dade County, 52 percent of residents are born in another country and about 60 percent are of Hispanic origin. Poverty is constant, and a hurricane could wipe the whole county out at any moment.

Yet it’s a community where people have rallied around children by supporting a dedicated source of funding for early childhood intervention and prevention programs.

It’s a model that could be replicated here, according to childhood- development advocate David Lawrence.

“And so it can be in Spokane and anywhere,” Lawrence, a retired Miami Herald publisher, said in his keynote address Tuesday at the third annual Our Kids: Our Business luncheon at the Spokane Convention Center. He spoke at a similar event in Coeur d’Alene on Tuesday.

The event is a capstone to a monthlong community focus on child-abuse prevention, which began with a series of newspaper stories and a “call to action” to support area youth in 2007. Efforts in the past two years have focused on education; this year’s focus is mentoring.

Lawrence retired in 1999, after working in the newspaper industry for 35 years, to work on early childhood development issues. He is the president of the Early Childhood Initiative Foundation.

In 2002, Lawrence led a campaign for the Children’s Trust, which raised revenue for early childhood efforts. He was a key figure in passing a statewide constitutional amendment to provide pre-kindergarten for all 4-year-olds in Florida. About 145,000 children are now enrolled in pre-K.

“Building a movement can never be about ‘those children,’ ” Lawrence said, “but about ‘our’ children.”

He offered some statistics highlighting the challenges.

A year of child care in Washington state costs more than a year of tuition at a Washington state college, he told the crowd.

One-third of all births in Spokane County are to unmarried single mothers. The rate of domestic violence is higher here than the state or national rates. And so is the arrest rate.

“It’s easy to overlook the pain and poverty that some of your neighbors live with,” Lawrence said. “All children deserve the chance to be contributing adults.”

Contact Sara Leaming at sarale@spokesman.com or (509) 459-5533.


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