Children need help

10/16/2007

By Woody Woodrick
Advocate Editor

OXFORD — A leading advocate for children in Mississippi asked God to make use of his people on behalf of the state’s youngest citizens.

“Prepare us, use us, send us,” said Dr. Linda Southward on Oct. 14. “Give us Mississippi’s children as a point and place of service.”

Southward was the keynote speaker at a Children’s Sabbath service held at Oxford-University United Methodist Church. Southward works at the Social Science Research Center at Mississippi State University and works with Mississippi Kids Count. The service was sponsored by Congregations for Children, an advocacy group funded primarily by the United Methodist, Episcopal and Roman Catholic churches in Mississippi.

Cassandra Welchlin, the legislative liaison for Congregations for Children, said she was pleased with her first Children’s Sabbath. “It went well,” she said. “I would have liked to have had more ecumenical participation, but the information that was shared was relevant to the situation around children’s issues in Mississippi and the nation.”

Most of those attending were United Methodists.

Southward shared with those attending the now-familiar statistics about children in Mississippi. The state ranks last or near the bottom of just about every category tied to the health and welfare of children. She pointed out that of the 100 U.S. counties in the United States with the most children living below the poverty level, 22 are in Mississippi.

Southward, a member of Starkville First UMC, said the sobering statistics become real “when it happens to my family, my friends or to me.”

She called on Mississippians to open their eyes to the poverty and other issues that impact children that are often looked passed as they go about their daily routines.

“What I hope we do is make sure we don’t live our life in spiritual blindness to these problems,” she said.

“What would it be like if the Mississippi Legislature had a children’s caucus? What if in the legislature we really looked at children’s issues? We need an executive level committee on infant mortality,” she said.

Southward encouraged those attending to push for forming a Kids Count in every county in Mississippi. Kids Count is a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation that seeks to track nationally and state-by-state the status of children. By providing policymakers and citizens with benchmarks of child well-being, Kids Count seeks to enrich local, state and national discussions concerning ways to secure better futures for all children.

In her closing, Bishop Hope Morgan Ward of the Mississippi Conference of The United Methodist Church said, “The words we have heard make us sad but send us out into the world to make a difference.”

After a recitation of the counties represented at the service, Ward also urged those attending to connect with children in their communities through Kids Count so that “as all God’s children are counted, we may know in our lives that we are making a difference.”

In addition to Southward, the service featured the God’s Anointed mime team from New Horizon Church in Jackson, Burns UMC Children’s choir from Oxford and readings from three faith traditions.