"I have long admired the work of Rick Brandon and the Human Services Policy Center he directs at the University of Washington," wrote Seattle Times editorial page editor Mindy Cameron in a Sunday issue in early January of 1996. "One of his projects, Washington Kids Count, meshes with our efforts over the years to use these pages on behalf of a better life for children," she explained. "When Brandon suggested we team up on a simple project that uses our space and his information, I said, let's do it."
That editorial marked the beginning of a series in the Times on the first Sunday of each month called "Washington Kids Facts," which presents a set of facts about children, ways to make things better for kids, and information about who is working to make it happen. The facts are furnished by the Washington Kids Count, a project of the UW's Human Services Policy Center that tracks the conditions of children and families on a broad range of measures. The project is funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Boeing Company, and the City of Seattle.
In conjunction with the UW School of Public Health and Community Medicine, Brandon and colleagues issue an annual report on The State of Washington's Children. The report examines indicators that reflect the well-being of children in five areas: family and community, economic well-being, health, education, and safety and security. These indicators are critically important because what happens in early childhood is the key to education and well-being in later years. With increasing attention being given to educational reform in kindergarten through grade 12 and beyond, the work of Brandon and colleagues and the attention given to it by the press are helping to ensure that the needs of children in the earliest years are not overlooked.
In addition to the important information it collects, the Washington Kids Count project is regarded as unique and innovative for the means it has devised for disseminating that information to the community. The strategy is based on using different products for different audiences. For example, detailed data and policy pieces are distributed to policymakers, accompanied by public and private briefings, while shorter versions are distributed to a network of community representatives and advocates. The project has pioneered the use of an 11-location teleconference for Kids Count press releases. Civic leaders, child advocates and program personnel are present at each location to give a local context. "These media strategies have been widely acclaimed," notes Betty Jane Narver, director of the UW's Institute for Public Policy and Management.
Another way the project has packaged the information is in the form of brochures for businesses that suggest "how to be a business leader for kids." The materials point out that preventive strategies in the upbringing of children pay off. They note, for example, that every dollar spent on prenatal care saves over three dollars in later medical costs; each one dollar spent on quality preschool for children in poverty can save seven dollars in special education, and crime and welfare costs; and that alcohol/substance abuse costs almost $2 billion per year in Washington state. The brochures urge businesses to take the lead to support parents and children by creating family-friendly workplaces, promoting neighborhood safety, providing community leadership, and advocating effective public policy.
Washington Kids Count is just one of several projects underway at the Human Services Policy Center (HSPC), which was created in 1991 as a part of the Institute for Public Policy and Management in the UW's Graduate School of Public Affairs (see Institute for Public Policy and Management: Speaking Most Urgently to Regional Needs) . The Center is devoted to fostering integration of various human services--education, health, social and family services--by fostering communication among policymakers, practitioners, academics, and community and media representatives. Core funding for the HSPC is provided by The Stuart Foundations.