Some heavy hitters aim to increase funding for Del. programs helping at-risk kids

Matt Denn discusses how to influence fellow legislators with first-term Sen. Laura Sturgeon. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

Matt Denn discusses how to influence fellow legislators with first-term Sen. Laura Sturgeon. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

Improving the prospects of low-income children in Delaware from birth to adulthood is the focus of a new coalition of civic, business, legal and political heavy hitters.

The immediate goal of Action for Delaware’s Children is to increase state funding for three programs.

One provides nursing support for first-time mothers and newborns. Another provides services for students before and after school and during the summer. The third assists kids in the criminal justice system.

Terri Hodges, former president of the Delaware State Parent Teacher Association, chairs the fledgling group. She said the coalition wants to provide more support for the programs in Delaware already serving this population.

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“These are children that are [at risk] from birth right on up through the spectrum, 18, 19, that are coming back to the community after being released from juvenile detention centers,” Hodges said during a kickoff meeting at Warner Elementary School, where the level of poverty among students is high.

“We see the news every day. … The news paints a very grim story of what’s in store for some of these kids when we don’t provide the supports and services,” Hodges added. “I believe that together as a community, we do have the power, and we have the ability to raise up a stronger, louder community so we can be strong advocates for these children” who come from impoverished homes in rural, suburban and urban communities.

One organizer and leader is Democrat Matt Denn, the state’s former lieutenant governor, attorney general and insurance commissioner.

Denn wants to generate grassroots pressure on lawmakers to allocate more money.

“We aren’t doing well on a lot of metrics with these kids,’’ Denn said. “We still have huge disparities in terms of infant mortality based on income, educational achievement. High recidivism for kids coming out of juvenile detention facilities.”

Denn said he and two former state senators in the coalition — Wilmington Democrat Margaret Rose Henry and Hockessin Republican Liane Sorenson — can influence lawmakers one-on-one. He was doing just that Friday in conversations with two first-term upstate Democratic senators, Tizzy Lockman and Laura Sturgeon.

But coalition members would rather seed the ideas among civic groups and businesses so they can be the topic of conversations in community meetings, grocery stores, and boardrooms.

Former Lt. Gov. Matt discusses the needs of at-risk children during Friday’s kickoff event. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

“We really want the folks at the grassroots level to be the influencer,” Denn said. “We’re very conscious of the fact that a state senator from north Wilmington or Middletown or Georgetown is much more likely to listen to someone they represent.”

Denn, who is now in private legal practice, shrugged off suggestions he’s also building support for a 2024 run for governor.

Corporate lawyer Lori Brewington, who comes from a family of educators, said it’s critical to help families who lack financial means.

Corporate attorney Lori Brewington says all kids should have the support she received as a child. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

“With regard to at-risk children, they need the supports,’’ Brewington said. “I know that me, growing up, I had that support. I had someone to make me breakfast in the morning. I had someone to ask me and make sure that I did my homework. Not everybody has that. And we want to give everybody a fair chance, a fair start.”

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