Five Questions with Casey: Dennis Campa Talks State-Based Advocacy

Posted August 12, 2016
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Blog fivequestionscampa 2016

As the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s asso­ciate direc­tor for state pol­i­cy reform and advo­ca­cy, Den­nis Cam­pa over­sees two nation­al net­works of orga­ni­za­tions: KIDS COUNT and State Pri­or­i­ties Part­ner­ship. Both net­works aim to improve the lives of vul­ner­a­ble kids and fam­i­lies through state pol­i­cy reform and advocacy.

Cam­pa began his career in Texas, as an adult pro­ba­tion offi­cer man­ag­ing a spe­cial­ized case­load of hero­in addicts. He worked in human ser­vices at the city, coun­ty and state lev­els for 38 years before retir­ing in 2010 as direc­tor of the San Anto­nio Depart­ment of Human Ser­vices. Dur­ing this time, Cam­pa played a key role in Casey’s Mak­ing Con­nec­tions ini­tia­tive in San Anto­nio and was named a Casey Chil­dren and Fam­i­ly Fel­low.

Cam­pa earned a bachelor’s degree from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Texas at Austin and a master’s degree from the Uni­ver­si­ty of the Incar­nate Word. He is a mil­i­tary Vet­er­an, hav­ing served 4 years with the Army and anoth­er 23 years with the Texas Army Nation­al Guard.

In this Five Ques­tions edi­tion, Cam­pa talks about the impor­tance of state-based advo­ca­cy and how the Foun­da­tion uses nation­al net­works to dri­ve state pol­i­cy reform.

Q1. Why has the Foun­da­tion cho­sen to make state-based advo­ca­cy a priority?

Our goal is to inform the peo­ple mak­ing the deci­sions that affect child and fam­i­ly well-being. States invest more than one tril­lion dol­lars annu­al­ly in ser­vices for chil­dren and families—a much big­ger con­tri­bu­tion than the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment. So, if we want to ful­fill our mis­sion of ensur­ing a bright future for all chil­dren in Amer­i­ca, states are a strate­gic venue.

Q2. Why are nation­al net­works impor­tant? And, beyond cre­at­ing these net­works, how does the Foun­da­tion sup­port them now?

These nation­al net­works pro­vide a vehi­cle to push a pol­i­cy agen­da for­ward in every state, the Dis­trict of Colum­bia, Puer­to Rico and the U.S. Vir­gin Islands. By push­ing in uni­son, we build a capac­i­ty that is much larg­er — and more effec­tive — than if these orga­ni­za­tions were oper­at­ing alone.

The Foun­da­tion sup­ports these net­works by pro­vid­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties for them to learn and share strate­gies and chal­lenges. This year, one area we focused on was using data and com­mu­ni­ca­tion to inform pol­i­cy to address racial equi­ty and inclu­sion. Data alone doesn’t influ­ence peo­ple — you must trans­form data into sto­ries that move peo­ple to act.

Q3. Talk about the KIDS COUNT net­work and the State Pri­or­i­ties Part­ner­ship. What’s the ben­e­fit of invest­ing in both?

The KIDS COUNT net­work is a group of state-based child advo­ca­cy and research orga­ni­za­tions that serve as KIDS COUNT lead­ers in their states. These orga­ni­za­tions use data to explain what is hap­pen­ing to kids and fam­i­lies and to pro­mote smart poli­cies aimed at improv­ing child and fam­i­ly well-being. The net­work address­es a host of issues, from ear­ly edu­ca­tion and expand­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties for young peo­ple to improv­ing work­force poli­cies for parents.

The State Pri­or­i­ties Part­ner­ship, for­mer­ly known as the State Fis­cal Analy­sis Ini­tia­tive, works to ensure that states have an account­able and equi­table bud­get process. A state bud­get is the true expres­sion of pub­lic pol­i­cy and should cre­ate engines of oppor­tu­ni­ty for vul­ner­a­ble pop­u­la­tions — not bal­ance tax cuts and bud­gets on the backs of low-income chil­dren and families. 

These two net­works com­ple­ment each oth­er and both need strate­gic com­mu­ni­ca­tion to demys­ti­fy the con­nec­tion between state poli­cies and child well-being.

Q4. Talk about the pol­i­cy envi­ron­ment in states today. What are the chal­lenges and oppor­tu­ni­ties in mak­ing kids a priority?

Peo­ple believe in their hearts that kids should be a top pri­or­i­ty. If you talk to any gov­er­nor or state leg­is­la­tor they will all say that. But fund­ing for edu­ca­tion, child wel­fare and juve­nile jus­tice hasn’t caught up to pre-reces­sion lev­els. Last year, states increased their bud­gets by more than $12 bil­lion, yet still spent less than before the reces­sion and not enough to meet the mag­ni­tude of the need.

In terms of oppor­tu­ni­ties: Our net­works must com­pel states to use data and com­mu­ni­ty voic­es to inform their bud­get and econ­o­my. And one chal­lenge we face is the call to cut per­son­al and cor­po­rate tax­es. There is no evi­dence that this approach has worked to stim­u­late jobs or the econ­o­my, and it jeop­ar­dizes crit­i­cal child health, edu­ca­tion and human ser­vices programs.

Q5. What does every child advo­ca­cy orga­ni­za­tion need to suc­ceed in mov­ing state pol­i­cy forward?

First, you need to have com­pelling, unbi­ased, irrefutable data and analy­sis to inform peo­ple of the cur­rent con­di­tion of chil­dren in their states. You can’t rely on lengthy reports. You have to demon­strate the real impact of fam­i­lies not get­ting what they need ver­sus those who do so that pol­i­cy­mak­ers under­stand how their deci­sions are impact­ing peo­ple in their com­mu­ni­ties and districts.

You also have to be a learn­ing orga­ni­za­tion and com­mu­ni­cate with oth­er orga­ni­za­tions in the net­work. The net­work only thrives if peo­ple talk and col­lab­o­rate to do bet­ter work.

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