Name of Initiative: The Children's Agenda
Interview with: Larry Marx, CEO
Region served: Monroe County especially and statewide
Population served: Children of all ages in Monroe County especially and statewide
About The Children's Agenda:
Vision: The Children's Agenda advocates for effective policies and drives evidenced-based solutions for the health, education and success of children. We are especially committed to children who are vulnerable because of poverty, racism, health inequities and trauma.
Phone: 585-256-2620 ext 2601
The Children’s Agenda, located in Rochester, NY was founded in 2004 after a year and a half long planning process. Larry Marx, CEO, explains that throughout this process “Founders asked the question: what is missing from the local landscape around children’s needs? And they basically built this organization around their answer.”
Three primary elements were identified as missing from Rochester’s early childhood system. The first was advocacy that was independent and divorced from any organizational or programmatic self-interest. Larry explains that “We don’t run any direct services and we have a prohibition against taking government funding so that we can advocate purely on the basis of our mission.” The second component that was identified is ensuring the work was strictly data-informed and evidence-based. The Children’s Agenda supports only those programs with proven outcomes, or policies and practices that address basic needs. The last element missing at the time from Rochester’s early childhood systems was an organization focusing on all the issues across the entire prenatal to young adulthood continuum. Larry explains that: “There were and are organizations that focus on early childhood, some focused on school aged children, some on out of school activities for kids or college-entering youth. . . But we were created to cross all ages and issues to help interconnect system policies, programs and practices for more seamless support. So our mission is to help build the interconnections that strengthen whole child development for physical, social-emotional and cognitive health.” These three components --advocacy, evidence-based research and collaborative systems building -- are the core of The Children’s Agenda.
The Children’s Agenda engages in policy work at the local as well as state level. Larry explains why this adds value: “We have a real grassroots component to our work. We are able to mobilize the folks who are most affected by these issues in their daily lives, and they value us connecting them to tell their stories to the people who can make the changes they need. So we have a close ear to the ground. It’s easier to have influence if you have a real active base of mobilized people, like our 6,000 person online advocacy network, and 50 active faith community congregations. Another advantage at the local level is deeper relationships and, therefore, more leverage to get what we want for kids and families.”
While The Children’s Agenda was founded as a local organization to meet the specific needs of the Rochester community, their reach has expanded to encompass New York State policy. Larry explains that “We realized we couldn’t help local kids if we weren’t more active in state public policy, too. Our state policy work now focuses on all children with a particular emphasis on those in Monroe County. We have one foot firmly planted in State work as well as local work.” Larry elaborates on the relationship between local and state policy in their work: “As our focus is advocacy, evidence based research and systems building, the analysis of government budgets and systems building is very much at the local level, knitting together different providers and services and funding streams with cross sector leaders to make a difference for kids. We’ve had a lot of success implementing state strategies on a local level, which informs State and local policy.”
Anti-racism is at the core of The Children’s Agenda’s mission and is one of the five pillars their work is grounded in. Larry explains that: “We are not doing our job if we are not addressing the enormous racial and economic inequities that hurt the lives of Black and brown children in Rochester.” Larry shares an example of how their commitment to race equity shows up in their work: “Most recently we worked successfully to eliminate armed police in Rochester city schools, joining other cities like Minneapolis, Denver and Portland. Along with working with the Rochester City School District to help them to accelerate their cultural shift to more supportive school climates, that all disproportionately helps African American, Hispanic and other children of color. Rochester City School District has significantly lowered punitive disciplines like suspensions and expulsions that negatively affect lifelong education and other outcomes, especially for Black and brown children. Early Intervention and Preschool Special Education systems also contain huge racial disparities, too. Policy and funding decisions drive so much of that, so we focus especially on the most vulnerable kids.”
There are many points of alignment between the work of the Children’s Agenda and the ECAC. Larry states that “We are really honored to be included in the ECAC and see its mission as very similar to ours around systems building. I see our role locally very much tied to what the ECAC does at the state level.”