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St. Louis area governments have positive impact on families.

Two forums in the St. Louis area showed how local government actions have a direct impact on the quality of life for children and families.

The forums on Sept. 24--one in downtown St. Louis, Mo. and another in East St. Louis, Ill.--were sponsored by the National League of Cities (NLC) and the East-West Gateway Coordinating Council. Each forum stressed the importance of local governments working in partnership with public and private groups to address children and family needs.

In St. Louis, local officials from throughout the bi-state metropolitan area heard some success stories that they can build on. Those attending the East St. Louis forum heard pointed and poignant testimony about the problems facing that city's children and families from young people who confront them daily.

St. Louis, Mo.

Local governments have been working with families and children for a long time, whether it is commonly realized or not, said John E. Kyle, project director for the NLC's Children and Families in Cities Project.

Kyle said when the local police department investigates child abuse complaints or a local zoning board restricts or permits child care facilities, those local governments, in essence, have a policy toward children and families.

"City government is not usually a social service provider but the activities and policies city government does carry out have an impact on the quality of life for children and families," Kyle said. In many cities, parks and recreation departments provide innovative child care, anti-gang programs, and other family friendly policies and activities.

Kyle and Gary J. Stangler, director of the Missouri Department of Social Services, were the main speakers at a morning forum held in downtown St. Louis for local government officials from throughout the metropolitan area.

The forum was the kickoff for a new initiative called "Local Leadership Mobilization for Children," spearheaded by the NLC and the East-West Gateway Coordinating Council. Funding for the first phase of this effort was provided through a grant to NLC from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The Council is the regional council of governments for the City of St. Louis and seven adjacent Missouri and Illinois counties.

More than 75 state and municipal officials and representatives from various agencies throughout the region attended the session, designed to spur a regional dialogue on local government's role with children and families.

Stangler said state agencies have to learn to collaborate with municipal and local government officials, community groups and businesses to solve problems facing children and families. They also have to learn to trust each other despite differences of opinion on policies and funding decisions.

He also urged a positive, can-do attitude because of the severity of problems facing children and families. "Don't believe you can fail," he said. "If you're going to go after Moby Dick, bring tartar sauce."

Stangler said people who now need help form social service providers want something more than in the past." People don't want programs," Stangler said. "They want a life."

Like entrepreneurs, local officials must build on what others are doing to be successful in helping children and families, he said. A recent survey of St. Louis are local governments by the Council uncovered a number of success stories, which included:

* Counseling sessions on the effects of divorce on children offered by St. Clair County, Ill.

* Drug Abuse Resistance Education programs, known as DARE, that numerous police departments operate to educate young people about the dangers of drugs.

* The use of federal block grant funds by the city of Kirkwood, Mo., to enroll low-income children in day care centers.

East St. Louis, Ill.

Later that day in East St. Louis, local officials heard the perspective of young people on the problems they face.

"I go to sleep at night to the sounds of gunfire," said Andrew Norman, a sophomore at East St. Louis Lincoln Senior High School.

Norman and four other students who spoke at the forum agreed with the results of a Council youth survey in which 81 percent of East St. Louis youth responding said crime was a major problem in the community.

The forum, "Community Cooperation for Youth," involved more than 100 local and state leaders, representatives from area groups, and citizens gathering to spotlight and draw together efforts by agencies and individuals to enhance young people's lives in East St. Louis, Ill.

East St. Louis, just across the Mississippi River from a glittering downtown St. Louis skyline, has suffered many of the most severe urban problems faced by communities around the nation. The event was organized by the East St. Louis Mayor Gordon Bush's Youth Commission, in conjunction with the NLC and the Council.

Young people in the city should be viewed as a resource and not just recipients of community aid, said Allyson Zedler, a representative of the Illinois lieutenant governor's Office of Volunteer and Senior Action.

Norman and other young people said the community needed more jobs and a better police department. They also stressed that solving problems must a be a community-wide effort.

Tina Dorrough, a member of the city's Youth Commission, said new businesses opening in the city tend to be liquor stores or nightclubs that present a negative image.

Frederick Evans, a sophomore at Lincoln High School, said he hated to see people selling drugs and area residents should band together in fighting crime. "We have to take back our streets," he said.

The students also agreed that education was important for their futures, along with taking personal responsibility for planning to achieve goals.

Results from these two forums will be used to build East-West Gateway's capacity in assisting local governments in developing and implementing appropriate action plans to their communities.

Brian Flinchpaugh is the director of communications for the East-West Gateway Coordinating Council.
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:St. Louis, Missouri, East St. Louis, Illinois
Author:Flinchpaugh, Brian
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Oct 12, 1992
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