Voices’ Blog

Mixed Results: Reflections on 11 Years as a Child Advocate

Posted:  -  By: Emily Griffey

Over my 11 years at Voices, I’ve written blogs celebrating policy wins, launching new initiatives and reflecting on issues of the day. Today I write my last blog for Voices. At the end of the month, I will make a career shift and step away from the role of child advocate.

Most policy studies I have ever encountered produce “mixed results” — some positive impacts, some negative impacts, and some neutral impacts. I feel like that is an accurate depiction of how I feel after these years of working in child advocacy.

Positive Impacts

I started at Voices a month before I got married and have experienced so many of life’s milestones in this career. Through the births of my two children, I got to experience the challenges of working motherhood and finding child care. I learned firsthand what it was like to advocate for children—wanting the best for your child but experiencing setbacks with navigating systems or accessing care. There were illnesses, child care closures, and worries for their mental health and social-emotional maturity. Yet my experience was shaped by the privilege of our race and economic stability, and my insider knowledge of the systems most children encounter.

I have been fortunate to specialize in a policy issue, early childhood, that mirrored many of the experiences in my life with young children. Yet I have loved working for a multi-issue organization that embraces the well-being of the whole child in the context of community health, caregiver well-being, and physical and mental health.

I can proudly look back on a career where my ideas or suggestions became laws or state budget items and will impact many others for years to come. But I am proudest of the opportunities to change the narrative about why lawmakers must act to improve policies for children. I am proud of how we could drive the focus of statewide campaigns, hosting candidate forums and creating voter guides so that children’s issues were taken seriously. I am proud of working with partners to shape a new approach to recognizing the impact of economic hardship and mental health through the lens of childhood trauma. And I am proud that Voices will continue lead the conversation to advance the narrative beyond recognizing childhood trauma to promote healing.

mother holding baby

My son’s first day of child care in 2015.

Negative Impacts

Yet I am also disappointed about the moments when that narrative change and bipartisan elevation of children’s issues did not happen. In my 11 years at Voices, I have never experienced a climate that was so partisan on children’s issues as the current moment. I believe the current focus on “parents’ rights” overreaches into valuable classroom content related to race and social-emotional learning, and proposals related to the treatment of transgender students are the most toxic narratives I have ever seen children face in the policy arena. The culture wars over these issues are diverting attention from the serious need to address mental health, strengthen communities, and create pathways to economic security. This campaign playbook is only creating additional stress for children and young adults and diverting from the policy solutions leaders must address to improve children’s lives.  My one wish as an advocate is for a bipartisan truce to move away from these narratives.

Man in suit on stage with young people sitting a table

2017 Candidate Forum with Gov. Ralph Northam and youth leaders

Serious Advocates Only

Our children are facing the most serious issue I have encountered, a reduced life expectancy. We are moving in the wrong direction where children are now expected to have shorter lifetimes–because more children are dying due to gun violence, gun suicides, and overdoses. This is the most urgent moment to take policy needs of children seriously and not divert attention to a quick tweet or clickbait headline. The real solutions rest in investing in parents so that they have time and resources to create strong relationships with their children, limiting access to guns, and monitoring risk for drug use.

This is an extremely sensitive moment to step away from child advocacy, but I still think it is time. I am excited about the team at Voices that will lead this important work in new ways. I am thrilled that the next steps will build on the Theory of Change to work more directly advocating with young people, instead of only on their behalf. I’m ready to step away from a role where I spoke on behalf of others and let young people and those most directly impacted lead the way. And I’m excited to return to the University of Richmond, my alma mater, to help support its goals for engaging with the community and making college more affordable.

After a few years of tough transitions at Voices, I want folks to know this is an exciting and important moment for the supporters of this organization to continue to engage in serious advocacy and to follow the lead of this amazing and talented team. And I’m happy to feel that this is a good, goodbye.




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