Does America truly value its children?

By Debbie

It’s difficult to answer “yes” when you consider the following facts:
Every day in America:
ù six children commit suicide
ù 15 children are killed by firearms
ù 518 babies are born to mothers who had late or no prenatal care
ù 2,660 babies are born into poverty
ù 2,833 students drop out of school
ù 8,493 children are reported abused or neglected
Among industrialized countries, the United States ranks:
ù seventh in science achievement by 13-year-olds among 15 nations
ù 16th worldwide in living standards of our poorest children
ù 18th worldwide in infant mortality

We pay a lot of lip service to valuing our children. Political leaders talk about family values, but the policies they endorse make it harder, not easier for families to raise moral, healthy and educated children. Commissions are formed and research is funded in the name of improving the lives of our “most precious resources.” But when blueprints for action are offered, suggestions go unheeded by those in a position to make a difference. For example, in 1991, the bipartisan National Commission on Children submitted a 519-page report to President Clinton and committees in Congress outlining a national policy to improve the lives of children, strengthen families and as a result, fortify the nation. To date, very few of the commission’s suggestions have been debated in our national dialogue and even fewer have been acted upon.
Children are not a partisan issue. Children are not the ideological property of either the Republicans or the Democrats. Their health and their future are inextricably tied to that of our nation. And the choices we make now will shape the fates of all of our children. As we approach the last election of the 20th century, it is time to put action behind our words.
That is why families, community leaders and citizens from across America will gather June 1 at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., to take a “Stand for Children.” It is not a political rally. No politicians have been invited to speak. The event, which is being organized by the Children’s Defense Fund, is intended to serve as a catalyst; its goal is to move our nation beyond rhetoric and toward personal and collective action to ensure a better world for our children.
If you can find the time and the resources to attend the rally, I urge you to do so. Not only will you be sending a message to our political leaders, but you will have the opportunity to meet and exchange ideas with a diverse group of people who, like yourself, want to see children’s issues place higher on our national agenda. You can receive information about the Stand for Children by calling 378-5387. If you can’t attend the rally in person, you can attend in spirit by helping fellow Minnesotans finance their journey, by organizing local initiatives to coincide with this historic event or by writing your elected officials to let them know that children’s issues are important to you.
It is critical that our commitment to improving the quality of children’s lives not end at the Lincoln Memorial. Some of the most difficult and most important work to be done is on the local level — in communities like yours and mine. You can make a continued difference in the lives of children by volunteering in your neighborhood’s youth programs, churches and schools; by becoming a mentor, “big brother” or “big sister”; and by keeping politicians focused on children through letters and phone calls. The Stand for Children is an important first step, but without continued action, it will become just another hollow gesture.
Debbie Chymiak is a graduate student in public policy at the Humphrey Institute. This piece contains statistics from the Children’s Defense Fund’s 1995 report, “Wasting America’s Future.”