Carter Center update

TAP launches statewide "America's Youth Passport" initiative

In 1991, The Carter Center established The Atlanta Project (TAP) as a joint effort between community residents and leaders from Atlanta's government, business, religio and education sectors to help Atlanta's less privileged communities gain access to resources they need to solve problems such as teenage pregnancy, juvenile delinquency, crime, violence and unemployment.

TAP recently took on the challenge of countering Georgia's ranking of 47th among the 50 states regarding the quality of life it provides for youth. The initiative began in 1994 when Linda Torrence, community relations director for Channel 5, brought an idea to Judson Hawk at TAP. A local pediatrician with 40 years experience, Hawk has been on loan to TAP from Scottish Rite Children's Medical Center for the past four years. He serves as the organization's coordinator for children, youth and families.

The idea that Torrence presented was health and safety "passports" for kids, an initiative introduced in the late 1980s in Milwaukee by businessman James Kahl in association with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Recognizing how helpful such a resource could be to parents statewide, Hawk and the staff of TAP began eliciting support for the project.

Last August, TAP introduced its "America's Youth Passport" program at its Nike-sponsored "Participate in the Lives of America's Youth" (P.L.A.Y.) Day held at the Georgia Dome. "Youth Passports" are 5-by-4-inch booklets, similar in appearance to U.S. passports, in which parents can keep their children's health records, fingerprints and photographs. Some 15,000 of these booklets were distributed at the P.L.A.Y. Day event, creating a community-wide network of awareness and participation.

Because the "Youth Passport" program was received by most parents as an easy and practical way to keep better tabs on their children's health and safety, TAP began working with 21 local, state and national organizations to expand this effort, including WAGA-TV, Scottish Rite, the Atlanta Federal Executive Board and the National Law Enforcement Involvement Committee. As a result, former President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn held a press conference June 10 at The Carter Center to announce that an expanded version of the "Youth Passport" program has been officially adopted in the state of Georgia as a means of promoting health and safety care for infants through age 5 and beyond. As of July 1, all 100 Georgia hospitals that deliver babies will, for the next five years, provide parents of newborns with a 24-page "America's Youth Passport." The revised passport not only has a space for medical histories, fingerprints and photos, but also includes information about health and safety-related topics such as immunizations, nutrition and exercise, as well as tips on injury prevention, baby-sitting, daycare and parenting skills.

President Carter credits Hawk as one of the key players who helped make this accomplishment possible. "The importance of this project," explained Hawk, "is that it encourages parents to practice prevention as opposed to `after-the-fact' care. In other words, instead of waiting for a child to be injured, or contract a disease, the `Youth Passport' is a reminder to parents of just how important prevention is." Asked what he hopes will be the long-term benefit of the project, Hawk said that he expects it to become "a national program--one that will help America enhance its appreciation for the fact that good health--physical, emotional and mental--is the foundation all children need to learn and grow, a foundation that parents must help provide."

In conjunction with the June 10 announcement, Carter congratulated Hawk on the tremendous success of the initiative. "Through the private, public and media partnership that has been formed," said Carter, "`America's Youth Passport' will touch every child in this city and state. It shows they are our highest priority."

Ann Carney is assistant communications coordinator at The Carter Center.

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