Hartford Public Schools

As state lawmakers gather in Hartford for this year’s legislative session, they will confront a key question: How can we make sure that children have what they need to grow, learn and succeed?

At the current moment, the State of Connecticut has a remarkably full Rainy Day Fund and an unprecedented budget surplus. Much of those dollars are the result of one time federal COVID relief funding allocations and when we consider the impact the pandemic has had on existing social and economic challenges facing our most vulnerable citizens, it is critical that state leaders take a solid first step towards strengthening families.

Melvyn Colon and Jim Shmerling

As noted in state and national news headlines, children are now more vulnerable than ever, especially in urban neighborhoods and communities of color. Between missed school days, caregivers losing jobs, and family members lost to COVID-19, there are countless ways this pandemic has impacted children. On many levels, kids are resilient, but only if we provide them with the resources and support they need to face future challenges.

For children who grow up in economically depressed areas, the prospect of poorer health outcomes than their peers in wealthier communities is significant. For this reason, state leaders must ensure that all children have access to the health care services they need, regardless of their zip code or parents’ income. We must protect and strengthen Connecticut’s HUSKY program, which covers more than one in three kids in our state, but we also know that keeping kids healthy requires more than simply having insurance coverage.

Given the state’s budget surplus and our increased understanding of how many families are barely above water, now presents a unique opportunity to think more holistically about what it means to care for families.

Resilient parents and caregivers are better able to provide kids with a web of support when they can earn a living wage, put food on the table, and rely on the health and safety of their homes and communities. We can support children’s health by supporting families’ resilience.

This is one of many reasons that Connecticut Children’s is a member of the Southside
Institutions Neighborhood Alliance (SINA), along with Hartford Hospital and Trinity College. Through this collaborative effort, we partner with local leaders in Hartford’s south end to improve the quality of life for residents through community programming and initiatives.

One such initiative is the Walk to Work program, which connects residents in the SINA catchment area to jobs at its member institutions in an effort to reduce the area unemployment rate, which is currently 13-14%, and lower the poverty rate which is around 35%. SINA also develops healthy affordable housing and engages with neighbors to promote clean and safe streets.

The resources we invest in children are just that—an investment. The care we provide for infants and children early in life is critical and will have lifelong implications for their physical health and emotional wellbeing. By investing in our youth and advancing policies that support their health, we strengthen families, communities, and the state’s future workforce.

Knowing this, it is important that state leaders partner with anchor initiatives like SINA to strengthen communities such as Hartford’s south end. With targeted investment, SINA’s efforts in housing, workforce and public safety could further connect families to programs and services that address basic needs like food security and child care.

With collective public-private support, we can take care of the whole family and position our kids to reach their optimal potential.

Jim Shmerling is CEO and President of the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center. Melvyn Colón is the Executive Director of Southside Institutions Neighborhood Alliance.