Here at LiveMom, we love meeting new moms (and dads) doing interesting things around town. Our monthly features give us an excuse to learn more about these hardworking Austinites.
We’ve long been fans of Texans Care for Children, which is an Austin-based non-profit which works to fulfill the promise of Texas kids through improved policies and programs. Staffmembers have helped advise us on how to talk to our kids about race, given us Activism 101 and provided guidance on raising engaged citizens. The Communications Director of Texans Care for Children, Peter Clark, agreed to answer questions from us about the organization’s work during the recent Legislative session, as well as what he and his family enjoy about Austin. Peter worked in Washington, DC as a legislative aide and a non-profit policy advocate before serving as Legislative Director and Chief of Staff to a member of the Texas House of Representatives.
LiveMom: How many kids do you have, and what are their ages?
Peter: Rachel and I have two kids. Lucy is five and Oliver turns three this week.
LiveMom: What brought you to Austin? How long have you lived here?
Peter: Rachel and I moved here 10 years ago when I started the master’s degree program at UT’s LBJ School. We thought we would stay two or three years and then head back to DC. After our first 80 degree winter day, we started thinking about staying here longer.
LiveMom: What do you do in your role for Texans Care for Children?
Peter: I’m the communications director. We have six policy experts who work to improve state policies that impact children. In a nutshell, my role is to help them sharpen their messages on those policies and then get those messages out through traditional media, social media, reports, and so on.
LiveMom: What is your initial reaction to the recent legislative session about bills passed which will benefit Texas families and children?
Peter: There were definitely some disappointments, but I’m really impressed by everything our team accomplished. Before the legislative session, a number of children died or faced abuse in the very foster homes the state selected for them after they were removed from their abusive parents. When legislators came to Austin this year, they passed two of our proposals to help keep foster children safe and prevent these kinds of tragedies. They also passed a few of our proposals to support other vulnerable children, including teens in the juvenile justice system and children with severe mental health challenges. Next time, I’d like to see more progress on supporting families and investing in early childhood programs so kids have a better chance of getting on a solid path in the first place and avoiding some of these vulnerable situations.
LiveMom: What’s it like to work statewide but be based here in Austin, which has such a different political voting record than in other parts of the state?
Peter: When I started working for a state legislator back in 2006, it was a bit of a shock. Now I’m mostly used to it, and I understand the best approach is to find those areas of agreement and try to get something done.
LiveMom: What kinds of work does Texans Care for Children do when the Lege isn’t in session?
Peter: There’s plenty of work to do. Some of it is about implementing bills that passed. For example, we helped pass a bill this year requiring school districts and other public sector employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees who pump breast milk at work. Now we have to make sure that those employers follow through and that those employees know about it. We spend a lot of the interim working with state agencies. For example, we led a coalition to try to stop the state Agriculture Commissioner from allowing deep fat fryers back into schools. We also start preparing for the next legislative session, researching, vetting, and building support for our policy goals.
LiveMom: What do you wish the average parent better understood about the Legislature or activism at the state level?
Peter: There really are opportunities to impact legislation. Legislators, or at least their staffers, are usually very accessible. It’s difficult if you wait until the legislative session, or if you expect them to change their position on a high-profile issue or find funding in the budget for your favorite program. But you can have an impact if you start building a relationship with them ahead of time and you have something feasible you want them to do. In some cases, they won’t know about a problem that needs to be addressed unless you go tell them about it.
LiveMom: What do you like most about living in Austin? What would you change, if you could?
Peter: Coming from DC, I love the laid back atmosphere here. If I could change one thing, I would make the city more inclusive and affordable for working class people. And add a Major League Baseball franchise.
LiveMom: What’s your idea of a perfect day spent in Austin with the family? What would you do?
Peter: Start the day with breakfast tacos, then spend some time outside, maybe at Mayfield Park or Bartholomew Pool, and then go Phil’s Icehouse or the cafe at Central Market.
LiveMom: What might we be surprised to know about you?
Peter: Although my family had no connection to Texas before I moved here 10 years ago, both of my brothers now live here, and one even lives right next door.