Remarks by Christine James-Brown at the Catholic Charities Briefing (4/15/2008)
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
I am pleased to be a part of this briefing with Catholic Charities, both because of their efforts to focus more attention on the need to address poverty and because of today's special focus on the needs of young Americans.
Our member agencies serve some of the families and young people we are talking about and are hearing from this afternoon.
It is very important we take steps now to address the challenges around youth "aging out" or leaving foster care without the support they need. Just as important is this briefing's focus on the struggles of and important roles played by kinship families in our country.
These are important challenges for us if we are really to move our country's attention to where it must be - on the well being of our children and, as we say, on making children a national priority.
We are here this afternoon to bring these issues to our policymakers here in Washington DC, and to highlight some promising developments. I want to especially thank Congressman Jim McDermott for introducing an important bill; the Invest in KIDS Act, which if passed would enact a number of important reforms to our nation's child welfare system. Among other things it would extend support to kin families and it would extend care to youth beyond age 18. The Congressman's bill would also enact a number of other important changes to the child welfare system.
I also want to take some time here to highlight one other important piece of legislation before Congress, one that will help focus not just Washington's attention but our nation's attention on the well being of all children. I am talking of legislation to re-establish a White House Conference on Children and Youth.
We now have bipartisan bills in both the houses; in the House Representatives Chaka Fattah and Jon Porter have introduced H.R. 5461 and in the Senate Senators Mary Landrieu and Chuck Hagel have introduced S. 2771. I pleased to say that just yesterday the Senate bill received the support of Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator Barack Obama when they became the newest cosponsors.
This legislation would re-establish this White House Conference which is really not just an event but a community-energizing event. These Conferences on Children and Youth started in 1909 and occurred every ten years through 1970. Then they stopped. Like its cousin, the Conference on Aging, this is a process that would begin in 2009 with the actual White House convening in 2010. The first year offers an opportunity for meetings and discussions held all across the country focusing attention on some of the very same issues we are raising here this afternoon.
As an example, during the 1993-94 White House Conference on Aging there were more than 900 state and locally driven and officially recognized meetings across the country before the actual national convening. The actual White House Conference or convention was the result of these discussions. This is a way to energize not just Congress and the next President on these issues; it is a way to engage communities to start to talk about these families, children and young people in their cities, in their rural towns. It is a way to talk about the challenges of poverty.
The most recent statistics on child abuse came out a few weeks ago. They once again show more than 900,000 children as abused or neglected. These numbers also showed us again that nearly 65% of these child victims were victims of neglect. Many of these issues are intertwined with issues of poverty: access to services, inadequate housing, nutrition, health care, and poor economic surroundings.
We believe this White House conference is a way not just to make recommendations to Washington but a way to engage communities. We also see this as a way to encourage action here in Washington now and in 2009 to start changing the focus of our budgets and policies. We see this as a way to start taking the steps that will help the very young people and families you are hearing about today.
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