02/01/2012 08:06 am ET Updated Apr 02, 2012

Attorneys General Can Make a Difference in Fight Against Child Poverty

My office in downtown Little Rock is located directly across the street from an elementary school. Each morning, I watch the eager, smiling faces of children not much younger than my own kids ready to begin another school day. But many of their innocent smiles hide the truth: More than one in every four Arkansas children comes from a household in poverty. Some among them didn't have breakfast before leaving home. Others may have trouble in class because they spent the night shivering in an unheated home.

In Arkansas, 28 percent of all children live in poverty. Among all the statistics I read, this is one that reminds me of our deepest obligations to our fellow man. Poverty wrestles hope out of the hands of our children. I believe it is our responsibility as today's leaders to fight to give that hope back to the leaders of tomorrow.

As an active voice among my colleagues nationally, I know that state Attorneys General are uniquely positioned in the efforts to help and protect children. We know that high-quality education is essential for children to emerge from poverty, and that in our state, there exists a significant achievement gap between middle- and low-income students.

I constantly work to improve the quality of our public schools. Arkansas provides important additional state aid to schools with high percentages of students eligible for free and reduced-cost lunches, as well as for students for whom English is a second language. We remain faithful to our commitment to children of all income levels that our public school system will be one of the best in the land.

I am committed to helping our most at-risk children. As a result, I have built an outstanding relationship between my office and groups that are working to make life better. Attorneys General in their consumer advocacy positions help those that do not have the resources to help themselves. We do so by pursuing those who take advantage of our states' consumers. Often, that litigation results in financial recoveries on behalf of Arkansans. I am proud to have dedicated some of that money to aid in the fight against child poverty.

Last year, our office addressed the State's widespread hunger with a targeted distribution of $425,000 to Arkansas food banks. A 2010 study indicated that Arkansas children had the highest risk of food insecurity, that is, a lack of access to nutritional food, in the nation. The distribution made by our office was recovered from a settlement with a food company regarding that company's marketing practices. The money helped to sustain the state's food banks in a year when those organizations were significantly affected by the economic downturn.

In the last two years, we've also directed support to Save The Children, an international organization with a mission to improve the lives of poverty-stricken children. Save The Children serves thousands of Arkansas students with in-school and after-school programs that focus on literacy, nutrition and physical activity in some of the most impoverished areas of our State. We are proud to be one of the first three states to benefit from Save The Children's new state-by-state model.

Attorneys General can also fight the scourge of child poverty through advocacy on the state and federal level. As a member of the national law enforcement organization, "Fight Crime: Invest In Kids," we advocate for lawmakers to direct resources toward fighting poverty. The organization of law enforcement officials from across the country recognizes the link between poverty and crime. A study by the Journal of the American Medical Association indicated that the behavioral disorders in children most closely linked to juvenile crime decreased by 40 percent when the incomes of their parents rose above the poverty level.

We owe it to our children to ensure they have an equal chance for success in the future, and attorneys general clearly have a role in that obligation. In fact, we all do. By volunteering at a food pantry, donating outstanding groups like Save The Children or encouraging policymakers to make decisions that improve the lives of our children, we all can join in this important effort.

President Lyndon B. Johnson, in an address to Congress, noted that, "Somehow, you never forget what poverty and hatred can do when you see its scars on the hopeful face of a young child."

Let us work together to rid those hopeful faces of their scars.