17 August 2006
Portland children write own bill of rights
Portland will soon become the first major U.S. city to have a children's bill of rights written by the very people it affects. City Council members will vote today to accept the result of a year and a half of work by dozens of Portland children. The document is a no-surprises list of fundamental needs and philosophies any parent or compassionate adult could support, such as the notion that all children should have clothing, a solid roof over their heads and adequate health care.
The real question is whether it results in policy changes or programs to help the thousands of Portland youths who live in poverty or danger. "This is really intended to begin the conversation," said Elizabeth Kennedy-Wong, an aide to Mayor Tom Potter. A committee of more than 30 children wrote the bill of rights, and more than 400 "ratified" it at Portland's Convention on the Rights of Children and Youth, organized in the spring by the mayor's office. It's part of Potter's effort to focus city government on children's problems and to gauge his administration's success by its attention to young people. Potter's wife, Karin Hansen, helped the kids write the document and pushed the mayor to support the idea.
When he took office in 2004, the mayor began inviting a child or group of children to testify at the beginning of each weekly City Council meeting. (He ties the tradition back to African tribesmen and women who greet each other with the question, "What about the children?" and use the health of a society's young people to gauge quality of life.) Last year, the mayor tried to rally other local leaders behind a regional tax for schools and later proposed a citywide income tax for education funding. He's still trying to build a statewide coalition of mayors, business owners and other civic types to lobby the Legislature for changes in the tax structure to help public schools.
The bill of rights is a largely symbolic addition to his list of kid-friendly initiatives. The three-page document holds a few basic truths to be self-evident: Every child deserves a voice in the decisions that shape their lives; every kid is entitled to a quality education, starting in preschool and extending beyond high school; and every youngster has a right to "physical, mental and spiritual wellness." The kids get specific in a few spots. All children, for example, are entitled to extracurricular activities at school, including athletics and arts. Children should be free from discrimination regardless of race, religion, socioeconomic status or sexual orientation.
The bill of rights doesn't include any major policy suggestions, although it makes it clear city and county governments should continue work to end homelessness and fight drug abuse. When they vote on the document today, City Council members will ask aides to compile a report on services available to children and what else is needed. Organizers plan to seek similar approval from Multnomah County commissioners, Portland school districts and perhaps other town councils.
16 August 2006
Readers are always welcome to
comment on material in �Today�. MAIL
In the panel on the left you will find similar