Is it Controversial to be Pro-Children?

As someone who previously worked with children and families, I have always been frustrated that so little attention is paid to the topic when it comes to political discussions. There have been times that I’ve hesitated to write about policies that affect children (especially black and brown children) because typically they don’t generate much attention.

That’s why I was frankly surprised when the Trump administration’s family separation policy became the hot topic for a sustained period of time. Not only were the needs of these families front and center, the whole issue involved mostly brown children. I have a hunch that this is one of the ways that increased involvement of women in politics at the grassroots level might be changing things.

In an intriguing column, Catherine Rampell suggests that perhaps it’s time for Democrats to run with this one.

Democrats have been casting about for a winning theme this November. Here’s one suggestion: Kids.

After all, despite once declaring themselves the party of family values, Republican politicians have more recently ceded this territory. The GOP is now the party of state-sanctioned child abuse, of taking health care away from poor children, of leaving young immigrant “dreamers” in legal limbo.

She goes on to take a look at some of these Republican policies in more depth, like using the Children’s Health Insurance Program as a hostage in budget negotiations and attempting to reduce Medicaid. Here are the important numbers:

For 114 days, Republican lawmakers let lapse federal funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program — which 9 million low- and moderate-income children depend on — while the party instead pursued tax cuts for the wealthy. Last year, it likewise tried (but failed) to ax funding for Medicaid, which another 37 million poor children relied on for care in 2017.

That doesn’t even include the number of children who would lose coverage if Republicans are ever successful in repealing Obamacare. Then there is the Trump budget.

His administration’s 2019 budget slashes funding for children’s programs almost across the board. Relative to spending under current law, for instance, he would cut child-care assistance and Head Start funding by about 30 percent each.

What Rampell doesn’t include are things like what the rollback of EPA regulations do to children’s health or the planet they will one day inherit from us. Similarly, the GOP’s constant drumbeat about “welfare reform” would primarily hurt children living in poverty. Then there is what Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is doing. Shifting federal money to private and charter schools undermines the whole concept of “public education” as a value that was once embraced by most Americans.

As I read Laura Meckler’s article about how DeVos is rolling back civil rights enforcement in public schools, it was difficult to avoid thinking that we’re heading back to the Jim Crow era where children of color were denied equal education. The crux of the changes involve a total denial of systemic racism in schools as well as a rejection of the judicial standard of disparate impact when it comes to how children of color are affected. They’re even trotting out the whole “states rights” argument in defense of these changes.

The movement to narrow discrimination enforcement reflects a broader ethos at work in the Education Department under DeVos, who has sought to reduce federal control over schools, saying oversight is best done by local communities and states.

The issue of guns is another area where Republicans have been a total failure at protecting our children. The statistics are gut-wrenching.

At least 26,000 children and teenagers younger than 18 were killed by gunfire in the United States between 1999 and 2016, according to mortality data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Firearm injuries are the third leading cause of death among children age 1 through 17 in the United States, according to a 2017 study published in the journal Pediatrics.

Among the world’s wealthy nations, the United States accounts for 91 percent of all firearm deaths of children younger than 15, according to a 2010 study published in the American Journal of Medicine.

As Rampell points out, the grim reality is that the federal government spends a measly 9 percent of its budget on children, mostly through programs such as Medicaid and special education. That percentage will go down as the baby boomers continue to retire and draw on supports like Medicaid and Social Security.

Interestingly enough, we have a history of what can happen when this country prioritizes taking care of a vulnerable age group. The very programs boomers will depend on were initiated out of concern for the elderly. Is this country capable of stirring up similar concerns about our children? So far, the resounding answer has been “no.”

Because children’s issues tend to rate higher as a priority for women than they do for men, perhaps our abysmal record on this one can change as more women get engaged in grassroots organizing as well as running for office. It is very clear which party is primed to pick up that banner and run with it.

Beyond being an investment in both our children and our future, Rampell makes what might be a bold assertion: “it’s not exactly controversial to be pro-child.” You wouldn’t know that from a perusal of the policies that affect children, but perhaps it’s time we changed all of that.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.