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Children's Voice Article, January/February, 2005

Executive Directions

As George W. Bush prepares for another four years at the helm of our country, it seems appropriate to review the work that's been done for children recently and look forward to the goals and challenges his administration will face in the next four years.

Last summer, the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics issued its annual report on the status of children in our country (visit www.childstats.gov for a copy of America's Children in Brief 2004). The forum employed substantial research to choose 25 key indicators related to child well-being. It selected factors that vary across important areas of children's lives, that are measured regularly to show trends over time, and that represent large segments of the population. The 2004 report revealed that birth rates for adolescents have continued to decline, victimization rates for youth and violent crime rates by youth are down, and participation in advanced high school courses is at the highest level in 20 years.

Even with these positive changes, too many of the well-being indicators still place the United States near the bottom of the pack compared with most industrialized nations. At a time when we know more about what works to achieve better outcomes for our children than at any time in history, we have precious few excuses for such a sad showing. One in six American children lives in poverty. Our teen pregnancy rates are still the highest among western nations. Meanwhile, many of our leaders in Washington point to the incredible amount of money required to fund a war on terrorism and express regret about our inability to do more for children--to invest enough to effect substantial, long-term change.

Before the election, 36 pediatricians, including T. Berry Brazelton, took our current federal leadership to task for policies that jeopardize the well-being of children. In an open letter (see http://votekids.everychildmatters.org), the physicians pointed out that 27 million children were without health insurance at some point in 2002-2003--an alarming fact many of us have been concerned about for some time. Recent tax and budget policies have contributed significantly to a fiscal crisis in many states, which, in turn, has resulted in deep cuts to programs serving millions of children. In Texas alone, nearly 150,000 children of working class families were dropped from the State Children's Health Insurance Program, leaving them without any insurance.

As the pediatricians pointed out, current policies have moved us away from effective, longstanding federal commitments that were initiated and supported by previous federal leadership, including Presidents of both political parties. They cited as evidence a recent lack of commitment to Head Start and prenatal care, basic maternal and child health services, preventive child health services, and medical treatment of acute and chronic illnesses, such as childhood asthma. Clearly, there's much to do, and finding the public and political will to put these issues front and center will require an unprecedented effort.

In the coming weeks, our nation will celebrate and acknowledge the accomplishments of Martin Luther King Jr., Abraham Lincoln, and George Washington--individuals who took on the great challenges of the day that were facing our country. The well-being of our children is one of the greatest challenges we face today. These leaders whom we admire years after they've passed were bold enough to do the right thing.

We should expect the same from our leaders today--a commitment to provide a more positive future for our children, regardless of any threat on our shores or overseas. Too many of our current leaders prefer action that will upset the fewest constituents or garner the greatest number of votes. We must demand more when it comes to our most vulnerable children and families.

As we move forward, however, it would be a mistake to overlook some of our accomplishments in recent years, such as housing assistance for families at risk of losing custody, assistance for youth aging out of foster care, and first-time federal funding for family preservation and support. We must build on those successes as we work with Congress as it now considers legislation to address child welfare workforce recruitment and retention, direct services for kids in care, and support for kinship caregivers, and to fundamentally change the way the federal government provides financial support for the child welfare system. We must ensure these changes will provide child welfare agencies what they need to protect abused and neglected children.

Regardless of who lives in the White House or provides Congressional leadership, we need to demand that our President, Senators, and Representatives do more than patch up the inevitable holes that children sometimes fall through, and instead weave a network of support that guarantees children's safety and well-being on a broader level. CWLA will be at the forefront of those advocating that Congress and President Bush provide the tangible evidence that children are indeed America's national priority.

Shay Bilchik




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