The following interview is with Rachael Deane, CEO of Voices for Virginia’s Children
Voices for Virginia’s Children champions public policies and legislation that achieve positive and equitable outcomes for young people. The organization drives action through data-driven research and recommendations, focusing on overlooked children’s needs in areas like early childhood, foster care and adoption, health and mental health, and family economic security.
Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your organization?
Rachael: Voices for Virginia’s Children is the Commonwealth’s only independent, multi-issue child policy and advocacy organization. We are home to Virginia’s KIDS COUNT data center, which includes more than 200 state- and locality-level indicators on child well-being over time. Using this data and our independent policy research, we determine unmet needs and threats to child well-being across Virginia, recommend sound policy solutions, provide objective input to policymakers, and educate and mobilize leaders and concerned citizens to support policy initiatives.
I joined Voices last October after several years as a children’s rights attorney. I already knew about Voices’ excellent advocacy in the Virginia General Assembly, and it was an honor to join the team.
What inspired you to pursue your organization’s work, and what continues to motivate you in your work today?
Rachael: My grandmother was an early childhood educator, and my first job was as a teacher’s assistant in her center. I was drawn to children’s advocacy in law school and spent time as a student attorney in my school’s education rights clinic. After spending several years as a housing advocate, everything came full circle when my first child was born. After a traumatic birth and postpartum period, I knew I wanted to return to child advocacy.
What have been some of the most rewarding experiences you’ve had while working with your organization?
Rachael: Last year, Voices launched our new youth advocacy and leadership development program, Virginia’s Youth in Action. It has been incredibly rewarding to spend time with these young people and their parents and to learn about their big dreams for a brighter future.
In what ways has your organization grown or evolved since its founding?
Rachael: Voices recently expanded our work to include more young people, moving from a focus on children ages 0-18 to all young people up to age 24. This shift reflects what the latest research tells us about brain development from birth through adolescence and young adulthood. Much like early childhood, adolescence is an important developmental period when the brain is open to learning and growing, and it is a time when young people are establishing their identities and taking on new life responsibilities. We will continue our longstanding work in early childhood education, foster care, and school-based mental health supports while acknowledging that youth extends well beyond age 18. We are quite interested in the concept of a unified youth policy agenda that will ensure the needs of all young people–and their families–are met.
How has your organization maintained a sense of purpose and focus on its impact, and what effect do you hope your organization will have in the long term?
Rachael: Our policy networks across the state keep us in touch with community members and families with lived experiences in many of the systems we seek to change. Learning from lived expertise helps us maintain our sense of purpose and focus on impact. In the long term, I hope we will continue to make a place for youth at the table of policy change.
If you could describe your organization using one adjective, what would it be?
How do you like to unwind or spend your leisure time?
Rachael: I love to unwind outdoors, whether it’s taking a long walk while listening to one of my favorite podcasts, swimming with my children, or just sipping coffee on the porch.
Learn more about Voices for Virginia’s Children and their work here!
Our #AskHer series is an interview series featuring gender-expansive leaders, as well as Washington Area Women’s Foundation’s partners, community members, and supporters who work tirelessly to advocate for and serve women and girls of color throughout the Washington metropolitan region. Each curated conversation seeks to shine a light on the organization and the leader and the work being done in our community and for women, girls, and gender-expansive people of color.