66% of children in Alabama have both parents in the workforce and more than 1.8 million Alabamians, including half a million children, live in communities with little to no access to healthy food options. While the state ranks as one of the unhealthiest in the nation, Voices for Alabama’s Children, with assistance from a grant from Voices for Healthy Kids, is working to improve healthy standards in childcare facilities by focusing on research, public awareness, and advocacy.  The heart of their strategy and success is their ability to leverage data to educate others on the areas of highest need and to understand the root causes behind issues.
“The very center of all the work that we do is based on a solid foundation of research and data,” said Mann. “The research helps us understand if there is a need, and the data actually tells us the extent of the need.”
The Kids Count project is both a state- and national-level initiative. In Alabama, the Kids Count project reports on over 60 indicators for all 67 counties – tracking everything from infant mortality to children in poverty to the number of deaths of children. It aims to provide high-quality data and trend analysis so that all parties are able to have a non-partisan, evidence-based conversation about children’s issues.
Tracking these indicators also helps to identify “where we can do the most good and where low-hanging fruit exists,” said Mann. But the indicators are just the beginning of a larger equity conversation. “We’ve gone to the Department of Public Health and asked ‘Why are black babies dying at such high rates?’ It’s not just one thing but you have to know that poverty plays a role. Access to healthcare in a rural setting plays a role. Education could play a role. Access to healthy food is going to play a role. Our indicators don’t stand alone, they’re interwoven. There’s not one thing that causes it, and there’s not one solution to fix it all, but we have to start somewhere.”
Finding Uncommon Allies to Improve Childcare Standards
Though the progress in establishing early care and education standards in Alabama has been slower due to the lack of funding, Mann said that finding partners with the same policy priorities has been a key to their incremental success. For example, in their campaign for more funding for Pre-K education, they identified that the business community also had a stake in the issue.
The business community recognized that the quality of their future workforce was dependent on the quality of today’s education. Similarly, in their campaign for healthy food access, having the support of the American Academy of Pediatrics proved to be successful.
“It was a different voice that decision makers were hearing. It wasn’t a single child advocacy organization. You have pediatricians now echoing us about how the need for intervention and warning about the impact of inaction,” said Mann.
Voices for Alabama’s Children has taken on the task of improving the minimum standards for nutrition and physical activity and limit the amount of screen time for children in early care and education centers. Not only would this policy change address issues such the prevention of diet-related diseases, it would begin to address the disparities in health outcomes.
“We’re here to speak for children,” said Mann. “And their health and wellbeing are our priorities.”