Connecticut Voices was founded in 1995 by four women who each had many years of experience working on behalf of children -- Shelley Geballe, Janice Gruendel, Judy Solomon and Nancy Lustman -- to enable Connecticut residents to be more effective voices for our children. CT Voices has built a highly talented staff with education and experience in education, law, health, business, government and the non-profit sector. This multi-disciplinary approach allows us to offer new insights on recurring problems. Policymakers, political leaders, the media, other advocacy groups and others now regularly turn to CT Voices for public policy and budget analysis, and new ideas.
Connecticut Voices for Children issued a 2015 Legislative Policy Agenda which we pursued through the session and special session, advocating for strategic investments in children and families to advance equitable opportunity today and to ensure broad social and financial well-being into the future. While mindful of the fiscal challenges facing the state, we called upon our elected officials to support programs that promote the healthy development, educational achievement and well-being of all the state's children and families. We were able to raise a strong, research-backed voice for children: a voice that helped to avert a budget crisis and advance policy choices that make a real difference in the lives of children and families.
1. Unrestricted funding that allows us to develop a deep bench of policy expertise- giving us the ability and credibility to identify and seize new opportunities to advance policies that support children and families.
I have been an enthusiastic supporter of Connecticut Voices for Children since Shelley Geballe, its charismatic founder, presented her extraordinary vision of a policy think tank to Albert J. Solnit, MD, and I was fortunate enough to be present. Her determination, vision and understanding of the complex interrelationships of the political, educational, familial and intra-personal systems which promote or impede human development was impressive then and these values remain the basis of the organization today.
I was honored when Shelley invited me to join the board of Connecticut Voices 20 years ago, and I am grateful to the Nominating Committee that has allowed me to not only maintain my board position, but selected me to serve as president in 2012. When I accepted the presidency I had no idea that I would need to lead Connecticut Voices through another transition in leadership. Jamey Bell, who succeeded Shelley as Executive Director, had proven to be a competent leader and I was prepared to guide an organization that was fully in charge of its own destiny. How quickly things change! Within weeks of my becoming president, Governor Dannel Malloy appointed Jamey to a prestigious state position and CT Voices was faced with having to recruit its third Executive Director
It is this challenge which best illustrates the enormous strength and resilience of the Connecticut Voices staff, board and community. Not only was the staff able to meet all of its many contractual obligations during the period of transition but, under the impressive leadership of Sharon Langer, Senior Policy Fellow, the organization continued to develop thoughtful and concise analyses and position papers which undoubtedly influenced decision making on many of the legislative issues affecting the lives of children and families
I am particularly pleased that the Search Committee, which I also chaired, was able to work quickly and smoothly and unanimously selected Ellen Shemitz, JD, as the third Executive Director of CT Voices. We could not have made a better choice. Ellen will lead CT Voices into the next decades with an enthusiasm, intelligence and vigor that I believe will guarantee its continued success as the premier think tank and child advocacy group for policies affecting children and families in the Connecticut. Under Ellen’s leadership, CT Voices is already poised to become a national leader in this field and join the national conversation on some of the issues which it has championed, such as the plight of children aging out of foster care, preschool and early childhood education, and the need for strong schools which can prepare children for college as well as for the vocations which will assure them financial viability and create a pool of employment ready individuals in the state.
Connecticut Voices is fortunate to enjoy strong, committed leadership at all levels of the organization -- staff, board and supporters. I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to work closely with those who share my vision of the organization as a place where unbiased, data driven analyses are encouraged and the findings disseminated in the service of improving the lives of all of Connecticut’s children and their families. All of us stand to gain from these efforts.
Thousands more children have access to the health care they need as a result of our research and advocacy. Over the last several years, Connecticut Voices has analyzed HUSKY enrollment data that indicated that babies turning one and teens turning 18 were more likely than children of other ages to lose coverage over the course of a year, often because of confusion about program rules and notices about renewing their health coverage. As a direct result of our work and recommendations, the Department of Social Services made changes to its procedures, and community organizations took additional steps to help families keep their children enrolled in HUSKY. Follow-up research has found that thousands more children are retaining their health coverage after these changes were implemented.
Our early education work is focused on ensuring all young children have access to high-quality care-giving environments that are developmentally appropriate, culturally sensitive, and that recognize parents as children’s first and most important teachers. We also support the creation of an integrated state-wide system of early care and education that will lead to improved overall quality of state-subsidized programs, greater access for children and families, better data collection and analysis and, accordingly, wiser investments.
Our K-12 education policy work focuses on informing the creation of an equitable public education policy and financing structure; keeping children in schools, where they learn best, by reducing truancy, exclusionary discipline, and dropout; combining efforts to support children in school and addressing inequities in family well-being; and promoting a rich, broad curriculum for all children.
Our short-term goals are aimed at improving access to high-quality early care and K-12 education:
Connecticut has begun the process of transforming its early care and education system to become more streamlined, integrated, and accessible to families. The state’s early care and education system has long suffered from a lack of coordination and planning for its patchwork of programs. Child care providers have struggled to manage multiple funding streams, regulations, and assessment measures. Parents have struggled to understand and navigate a confusing and often overlapping array of programs and eligibility requirements. Through our research and advocacy work, we have drawn attention to the need for a more unified and integrated approach to educating our youngest children. Policymakers have established a new Office of Early Childhood, charged with coordinating the state’s early care programs under one roof and improving access for children and parents.
The Fiscal Policy Center at Connecticut Voices coordinates our budget and tax policy work and seeks to increase investments in child and family opportunity and well-being; build a state revenue system that is sustainable, efficient, and fair; and improve transparency and accountability in state tax and budget policies.
Working across issue areas, Connecticut Voices seeks to improve and broaden opportunities for all children and families, particularly at-risk children. Our family economic security policy work seeks to prioritize proven investments that develop our human capital, including children and young adults; create and sustain high-quality permanent jobs; and broaden prosperity and economic opportunities for all state residents. Our child welfare work is focused on supporting investments in families and communities to prevent neglect and abuse, and working to improve services and outcomes for children placed in the custody of the Department of Children and Families. Our juvenile justice work seeks to reduce the number of children and youth involved in the juvenile justice system, to improve outcomes for children and youth who are involved, and to reduce inequities in the juvenile justice system attributable to poverty and race.
More than 180,000 Connecticut low-income households will continue to receive a strong boost from Connecticut’s Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Connecticut Voices has advocated since its start for a refundable state income tax credit, which was finally created in 2011. This credit for working families is a vital support that helps low-wage parents make ends meet and stay out of poverty. On the federal level, the EITC lifts more children out of poverty than any other federal program (including 35,000 kids in Connecticut). The new state EITC became a tempting target for deep cuts in 2013 as the state faced a massive budget deficit. Through our advocacy and our work with partners and policymakers, we helped to avoid deep and permanent cuts to the state’s EITC – ensuring that low-wage working families will have access to a robust credit in the years ahead.
All of CT Voices’ work actively fosters and relies on the next generation of policy leadership. We promote leadership development through our rotating two-year policy fellow program. This program is integral to our capacity to conduct research, engage with coalition and partners, produce reports, and achieve our significant public policy successes. We engage our associate policy fellows in all aspects of our work, empowering them to gain expertise in substantive areas such that they can become an independent resource for other staff and the public, including collaborative partners and policy makers.
We also mentor and develop the next generation of policy analysts through our collaboration with the Yale Law School Legislative Advocacy Clinic, in which law students with an interest in policy advocacy learn and practice engagement in the legislative process.
Ellen Shemitz is Executive Director of Connecticut Voices for Children. Attorney Shemitz is a nationally recognized advocate with over 25 years of public and private sector experience advancing social and civil justice through policy development, advocacy, litigation, media campaigns and public engagement. She served for eight years as the President of the Children’s Alliance of New Hampshire, a state-based child advocacy organization, known for its research and analysis on issues including child health and development, public education, child protection, and family economic opportunity.
She earned the Outstanding Advocate Award from the National Association of School Psychologists in 2003; served as the National Chair of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count Steering Committee in 2006-2007; and founded the New Hampshire Child Advocacy Network, a collaborative association of more than 200 child-serving organizations. From 2008 through 2012, Attorney Shemitz led the New Hampshire Association for Justice, a professional association working to promote civil justice and constitutional rights.
A Connecticut native and a graduate of Yale University (B.A.) and Yale Law School (J.D.), Ms. Shemitz moved to New Hampshire in 1987 to clerk for the Honorable Hugh H. Bownes of the United States Court of Appeals. While in private practice, she represented children with special needs, protecting their educational rights, and became a partner in the Manchester, New Hampshire law firm of Chamberlain & Shemitz.
Shelley's research and writing at CT Voices has focused on state and federal tax and budget policy, family economic security, child welfare and juvenile justice, children's health and mental health and K-12 education. She also currently serves in a number of appointed positions in the state, including the Advisory Committee of the Office of the Child Advocate and the Commission on Child Protection. She has been a consultant in a variety of international contexts, most recently about the non-profit sector at Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, China, on the HIV/AIDS law at the University of Pretoria in South Africa and public health law at the Union School of Public Health in Beijing, China.
To accomplish our goals, Connecticut Voices works collaboratively with a variety of partners, sharing data, seeking “field” input from service providers, convening likely and unlikely allies to create consensus, and engaging disparate voices in our direct advocacy. While a full listing of partners would far exceed the space limits here, the list includes: Behavioral Health Partnership Oversight Council; Better Choices for Connecticut; Connecticut Advocates for Accountable Government; Covering Connecticut’s Kids and Families; Connecticut Early Childhood Alliance; Connecticut Fair Housing; Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance; Connecticut Parent Power; Corporation for Enterprise Development; Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative; Legal Assistance Resource Center of Connecticut; Medicaid Strategy Group; Oversight Council of Medical Assistance Program; New England Alliance for Children's Health; New England Consortium to Reduce Child Poverty; New Haven Early Childhood Education Council; Partnership for America’s Children; Partnership for Strong Communities; and the Yale School of Law, Legislative Advocacy Clinic.
In 2015, Connecticut Voices for Children will celebrate its 20th anniversary. This milestone will provide us with an opportunity to look back and celebrate dramatic changes and achievements at the same time as we identify the existing barriers to success and the importance of coordinated action to advance a healthier state that supports the potential of all of its children. As the only statewide multi-issue nonprofit child advocacy organization in Connecticut, we play a unique role in explaining how issues such as poverty, crime, underachievement, unemployment and family dynamics not only impact healthy child development but also limit the potential of the entire state. At a time of declining social capital and community engagement, we seek to explain the reality of our social and economic interdependence, connecting the dots to draw a clearer roadmap to a better tomorrow.
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