This fall offers two important opportunities for children’s advocacy communicators to help cover uninsured kids: the beginning of the 2013-2014 school year and the first “open season” enrollment period for the health care “exchange” marketplaces created by the Affordable Care Act. It’s an opportunity kids’ advocates can’t afford to miss.

The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and Medicaid have been incredibly successful in covering uninsured kids. Even as the recession cost millions of children employer-sponsored health insurance, CHIP and Medicaid kept the uninsurance rate among kids at historically low levels.

The communications challenge is that about two-thirds of kids uninsured today are already eligible for CHIP or Medicaid. The 2009 CHIP extension and improvement law inspired a communications initiative by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to reach and cover these kids. The problem is straightforward: either their parents haven’t heard about CHIP or Medicaid or don’t know they’re eligible – both communications challenges are likely worse today than in 2009, in the wake of a recession that has made so many families newly eligible. That’s where HHS’ Connecting Kids to Coverage campaign comes in.

HHS has produced a content-rich back-to-school toolkit that advocates, educators, coaches, children-serving organizations, health care providers, and anyone who works with kids can use to spread the word. Resources include posters, mailers, and even a video PSA that was among the top 10 most frequently aired PSAs in July.

Based on the experiences of state advocates, there’s reason to believe we can make real gains. When states like Pennsylvania, Texas, Wisconsin, and Oregon changed their CHIP and Medicaid policies to make more uninsured kids eligible, effective communications played an important role in translating those advocacy wins to actual health care for real kids. School-focused outreach has proven to be a valuable element of any children’s health enrollment outreach effort. And experience shows that the “welcome mat” effect created when new health coverage options are publicized is most effective in covering low-income kids who were already eligible for CHIP or Medicaid.

But HHS can’t do it alone, and with the health of millions of children on the line, there’s a role for each of us to play. At First Focus, we’re sharing these resources with state advocates, journalists, and policymakers. Please consider making these resources a part of your fall communications plan. This is our best chance in years to connect millions of kids to the health care they need to grow and thrive.