A Huntington woman reads to a group of children as part of the KidsFest theme “Healthy Minds, Healthy Bodies, and Healthy Futures.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: This was originally published at the Children’s Budget Coalition website

What does it look like to make children and families a priority in federal policy and budget decisions? KidsFest 2017, an annual community event led by the United Way of the River Cities in Huntington, West Virginia, is a great example.

This year, KidsFest was held on September 17 at Ritter Park in Huntington, West Virginia. The festivities welcomed local children and their families to enjoy an afternoon of fun, centered around the theme of “Healthy Minds, Healthy Bodies, and Healthy Futures.” A wide range of service providers were available to educate children and parents on issues like substance abuse, nutrition, early learning, safety, and more. Children’s Health Fund, a member of the Children’s Budget Coalition, made an especially exciting appearance at this event, bringing their West Virginia Children’s Health Project mobile medical clinic—directed by Dr. Isabel Pino—to raise the importance of consistent access to pediatric care. The Herald Dispatch, the local newspaper, took notice of Dr. Pino’s efforts, featuring her in their front page article about the event.

Using the mobile health unit, Dr. Pino serves children who struggle to access medical care due to a lack of infrastructure and resources. I asked Dr. Pino what the federal and state governments can do to make it easier for rural communities to get to the doctor. She explained every community is different, so a one-size-fits-all approach isn’t always appropriate—but investments in infrastructure, public transportation and improved broadband networks to enable telemedicine are good places to start.

As I made my way through the event, I had a chance to interact with other admirable service providers who invest in West Virginia children on a daily basis. While many of their efforts are funded through the generosity of individual and corporate donors, it is also true that federal and state dollars can play a large role in bolstering programming that equips children to have healthy futures. As several Children’s Budget Coalition members can attest to, the government is an important link in the chain between children and service providers.

Several booths, including one from The Office of the West Virginia Attorney General, engaged children around avoiding substance abuse. These providers highlighted the devastating fallout the opioid epidemic has had on children (especially in rural areas) both with respect to health outcomes and separation from parents struggling with addiction. With foster care systems stretched, state and federal investment in child welfare services are critical during this crisis.

The booth hosted by Playmates Preschools & Child Development Centers was a shining example of how public investment in high quality child care can pay off: this organization, whose centers are all accredited by Children’s Budget Coalition member National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), collaborates with AmeriCorps, 21st Century Learning Centers, and local education boards to provide safe, developmentally appropriate and high quality child care and pre-school services. The United Way of the River Cities similarly emphasized the importance of Early Childhood and Education initiatives, giving out free books at its “Success by 6” booth.

KidsFest 2017 is truly a picture of what it looks like to invest in kids. This event should remind advocates and policymakers what—and who—will suffer if the federal government fails to invest in their futures.

A special thanks to the organizations who worked with First Focus to include the Children’s Budget Coalition in KidsFest 2017: Children’s Health Fund, Save the Children Action Network, Save the Children, United Way Worldwide, & United Way of the River Cities