Child Welfare in the 21st Century

  • April 2013
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Changing the conversation about what is important.

Posted by lboyd544 on April 24, 2013

To quote a good friend and true champion of children, Bruce Lesley, CEO of First Focus, “In America, a child’s ability should determine his or her future, not the circumstances of his or her birth.”

Democrats and Republicans surely agree with that statement. However,  our responsibilities as citizens, leaders, advocates, family members, voters, and stewards of our democracy and our earth  begin with that statement. Sadly, policy makers too often respond to this truism as permission to ignore investing in vulnerable children and families.

We know that access to early childhood teaching, to books and other learning experiences,  and to healthy nutrition and medical care are essential for brain development and lifelong potential. Yet the consequences of sequester have cut Headstart programs for vulnerable youth. Poor families are under attack in accessing SNAP (food stamps) in a variety of federal and state proposals from cuts to the SNAP program funding across the country to new work requirements for parents to be eligible for food stamps to the unresponsiveness of state workers to calls and applications from local citizens.

We know that children access necessary medical care more readily when their parents also have access to medical care. Yet too many states are refusing to expand Medicaid in spite of federal assurances that 100% of expansion costs will be covered for the first three years.  (Why not at least try expansion to see if it works/is affordable? States with questions and concerns can drop out of the expansion at any time!)  At the Congressional level, elected officials are doing their best to stop implementation of the Affordable Care Act without reasonable alternatives for the very popular aspects of ACA that families overwhelmingly welcome:  ending of preexisting conditions, equalization of insurance rates for women and men, extension of young people being able to remain on their parents’ insurance policies until age 26…

We know that children need caring and healthy adults in order to have physical and emotional stability. Yet the gap between rich and poor widens daily while the ‘middle class’ evaporates. Congress argues tax policy that protects the “have’s” and gives little leadership to equalizing economic and tax reform for the majority of our nation’s working class. As parents struggle with joblessness and underemployment, depression and domestic violence are on the rise. Child abuse and neglect rates are increasing. Families are fractured emotionally, geographically, and legally.

Sixty percent of children nationally who are subject of maltreatment reports in any given year receive no mental health services . 

What happens to the dreams, the ambitions, and the potential of children whose lives are too chaotic for their abilities to survive the circumstances of their birth? What are the dreams of a child living in poverty or living in a home of violence?  Are those dreams career? Philanthropy? Home ownership? College?  …hardly.

This nation can continue to be a nation of opportunity. But will it/we – for the immigrant family, the family in poverty, the child or adult suffering from mental or physical illness, the veteran with PTSD?

We must implore our federally and state elected officials to act on these matters crucial to families and children: quality affordable and accessible health care,  opportunities for mental health care, jobs that offer a salary which can support a stable home and shelter, access to educational opportunities from early Headstart to college, and an adequately paid workforce of educators and law enforcement officers to keep all our communities growing and safe.

I’ve had enough of the chest-pounding and fist-pumping of politicians who think only of their next election and cutting spending. It is only with input from citizens that we can inform them of what truly matters in our communities and for their constituents. Tell them what is important to you. Eventually, I do believe we can get their attention; but it will take a citizen army of voices.

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