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Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families

Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families (AACF) is a nonprofit policy advocacy organization that was formed by a group of concerned citizens, including Hillary Rodham Clinton, in 1977. The group’s mission is to ensure that all children and their families have the resources and opportunities to lead healthy and productive lives and to realize their full potential.

The idea for a statewide child advocacy organization sprang from conversations between Dr. Bettye Caldwell, at that time the director of the Center of Early Development and Education at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR); her assistant Don Crary; and Jim Miles, then deputy commissioner of the Arkansas Department of Social and Rehabilitative Services. The three talked about forming a group that would make children’s issues its primary focus, one that could alleviate an imbalance of lobbying power and give children a voice in the political and legal systems of Arkansas. According to Elizabeth Shores, author of the report “Steadfast Defender: Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families,” in December 1976, twenty people gathered at a Little Rock (Pulaski County) restaurant with the aim to “form a group that would be able to wield as much lobbying power as an organized group of social service providers, which were then the only advocacy groups addressing children’s needs.” Hillary Rodham, then on the faculty at the University of Arkansas School of Law, composed the articles of incorporation and applied for the organization’s tax-exempt status.

AACF was incorporated on October 4, 1977, and Rodham, Sharon Pallone, and Betty Lowe signed the charter. Rodham was appointed the first president of AACF’s board of directors. The group was modeled after the Children’s Defense Fund, a Washington DC–based organization for which Rodham had worked and subsequently served as board president.

In 1979, AACF joined other concerned groups in a ten-year-long effort to improve the juvenile justice system. By collecting and analyzing data, increasing public education, and collaborating on legislative and legal advocacy, AACF paved the way for reform. In January 1987, the Arkansas Supreme Court declared the juvenile court system unconstitutional. This created the impetus for a separate juvenile court system to deal with delinquency and child welfare cases in Arkansas.

The group was instrumental in the establishment of ARKids First, the state’s version of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), which is a part of Medicaid. When ARKids First began enrolling children in health coverage in 1997, the uninsured rate for kids was twenty-two percent. The ARKids First program reduced the number of uninsured children in Arkansas to just six percent in 2013. Other policies that have had a major impact on children include a 2003 expansion of the Arkansas Better Chance program, which is a pre-kindergarten program for at-risk and low-income children. This expansion made the state a national leader in early childhood education access for three- and four-year-old children.

AACF continues to advocate for programs and policies that help Arkansas’s low- and middle-income families: better access to high-quality preschool programs, affordable health coverage, a tax system that benefits working families, and juvenile justice reforms that focus on the rehabilitation of youthful offenders. AACF consists of an executive director and a staff of twelve employees. The group is headquartered in Little Rock in the Union Station building. AACF also has a northwestern Arkansas office located in Springdale (Washington and Benton counties).

For additional information:
Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families. http://www.aradvocates.org (accessed March 11, 2014).

“Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families: Affecting Policy and Programming.” Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, 2011. http://www.wrfoundation.org/assets/files/pdfs/AACF%20Partners%20in%20Progress%20Paper.pdf (accessed March 11, 2014).

Shores, Elizabeth. “Steadfast Defender: Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families.” Little Rock: Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, 1994. Online at http://www.aradvocates.org/assets/PDFs/Other/Steadfast-Defender.pdf (accessed March 11, 2014).

Gerard Matthews
Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families

Last Updated 3/21/2014

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