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* A new coalition of child-advocacy groups, United Way chapters and Community Foundations for Youth has formed to try to catapult the needs of children to the top of the United States national agenda.

Called the National Coalition for Youth, the organization last week launched a 10-year program aimed at bringing about change in public policy and awareness on behalf of all children in the United States.

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Backed by a $550,000 grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, the coalition is initially targeting 30 US cities where local groups will focus on improving public awareness, services to children, policy change, and advocacy. Then it will spread its efforts to other cities.

With 1 in 5 children living in poverty, 1 million teen pregnancies a year, and an inner-city dropout rate nearly 50 percent, "we're doing a brutal injustice to America's children. We need to change our ways," says John F. Ramsey, co-chair of the National Coalition for Youth and vice president of the Boston Foundation.

As a kind of wrap-around advocacy, the coalition is "arguing very emphatically that children are not a special-interest group in the traditional sense. They are a fundamental core interest of our society as a whole," says Mr. Ramsey.

In the face of what he calls the "crisis children and families find themselves in now," Ramsey is optimistic, saying he sees the potential for a tidal wave of changes.

"People are prepared to make those changes, make that long-term commitment to making a healthier society," he says, mentioning the "dramatic" need for better education, housing, and care of children. "If we can help produce a shift in values and attitudes toward one that favors and better cares for children, the policy changes will take care of themselves."

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