IT'S HARD TO imagine a political candidate who isn't an advocate for kids.

In the full glare of the political spotlight, each one is going to say he supports what is best for our children.

Though this is good, it's not good enough - and that is why Philadelphia Safe and Sound (PSS) has launched the Safe Kids, Sound Futures Campaign for Philadelphia's Children and Families.

It's an effort to build awareness among candidates and voters on specific issues. Just as important, we want concrete commitments from the mayoral candidates to affirm and financially support these important issues:

* Increasing the number of high quality afterschool and youth- development placements in the city so that all children have a safe, supervised place to go during the high-risk, non-school hours.

* Sustaining and expanding prevention programs that are proven to reduce youth violence and homicides.

* Improving the systems that serve children and make government accountable for measurable outcomes for kids and families.

These issues are key to any candidate's anti-violence plan.

The hours between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. are the most dangerous for unsupervised children and youth who can become victims of violence and crime or the perpetrators of them.

In the last seven years, the number of children in afterschool programs has increased from 8,000 to 45,000.

While this should be a point of pride for the city, it is not enough.

PSS estimates that number only meets half the city's need.

We estimate that more than 45,000 additional children and youth still lack and need safe, supervised places to go after the end of the school day.

The Safe Kids, Sound Futures campaign is unique - and made possible because of a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Social-policy advocacy groups normally don't have the resources to jump into a campaign.

We, however, are diving in head first and want to push these issues into the candidates' campaign platforms - instead of waiting and trying to push an agenda once a candidate is inaugurated.

We all know that in cities where children are a priority, the mayor is a catalyst. If he believes they are important, that commitment flows from his office and seeps into every corner of the administration.

What we are saying is we want Philadelphia to elect a mayor who will enter office with kids as a recognized priority and mandate for action.

We are running TV and radio ads, handing out commitment cards on our issues - to voters and the candidates - and have videotaped all the candidates specifically on these issues, streaming the video to our Web site, www.afterschoolworks.org, so that voters can see for themselves what the candidates say.

AS I MENTIONED, there is probably no candidate who would disagree with these issues. But they may not make them priorities, pushing them aside for other things that they perceive resonate more with voters.

That would be a mistake.

These issues are important to voters. In a recent poll we conducted, voters say they are willing to reward a mayoral candidate who makes afterschool and violence- prevention his priorities.

One of the striking points made by the poll is that 9 in 10 voters want children's issues to be a major focus for the next mayor. This includes both parents (99 percent) and non-parents (97 percent).

In addition, 55 percent of likely primary voters say reducing youth violence is the most important issue facing children and families for the next mayor to address.

Of those same voters, 72 percent say afterschool programs play a major role in keeping kids safe by providing supervised activities.

The primary election is fast approaching, and we are busy running a campaign for those who have no voice - our kids.

In the end, we know that it's not too much to ask candidates to give kids a budgetary commitment. As with so many things, we either pay now - or we pay a much higher price later. *

Anne Shenberger is president and CEO of Philadelphia Safe and Sound.