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What About the State of Kids in America?

In his State of the Union speech last night President Trump sang the praises of a booming economy, and emphasized that “Americans have always rejected limits on our children’s future.” But he was virtually silent on the ugly fact that this is not a boom time for vulnerable children in our country. They are the collateral damage in a barrage of cruel and misguided policies put in place by a government intent on slashing vital public programs and punishing the poor – and all of these policies are in turn placing very real limits on their futures.

Just in the last few weeks:

  • The Trump administration issued a public charge rule that would make it harder for the children of legal immigrants to access health care, food, and other vital programs that help keep families afloat.
  • A new report revealed that the number of homeless children is at its highest level in years.
  • Federal officials’ renewed efforts to turn Medicaid into block grants and cap aid for people in poverty compound challenges for children: when families are unable to afford housing and other basic necessities, children are at greater risk of being separated from their parents and placed in foster care.

Meanwhile, the opioid epidemic that continues to devastate families is also pushing thousands of kids into foster care. Instead of ensuring that as many homes are available to these vulnerable children as possible, the administration has imposed a discriminatory religious litmus test that will allow some foster care agencies to reject LGBTQ individuals from welcoming children into their loving homes.

Migrant children seeking legal entry also continue to face dangerous conditions in U.S. detention facilities. New government data shows the United States detained a staggering 69,550 migrant children in 2019, with little regard for existing legal protections for children in government custody. Children’s Rights recently filed a brief arguing against a new move to make some facilities even less accountable to basic safety and oversight standards.

Overall, the state of vulnerable children in the U.S. is a dire one. But this is nothing new. This administration does not have an exclusive claim on the abuse and neglect of children.

Children in the United States have long been underrepresented, short-changed and forgotten. Government policies that do promote their wellbeing are essentially optional: they can be eliminated or cut back when it’s politically convenient. Our government treats them as expendable, because kids don’t vote.

And as Paul Krugman wrote recently in the Times, this is a uniquely American failing. Unlike most other countries, we have done little to ensure that poor children can be safe and loved in their own homes. Unlike other nations, we have no government mandated paid maternity leave, while the benefits we do give kids are tied to their parents’ employment – no job, no support for you and your children. It is therefore not surprising that the U.S. has one of the highest rates of child poverty among developed nations. Infant mortality is more common in the United States than in many other economically advanced nations.

We say we value children, that they are our future. But in reality, our policies, our priorities, our funding and our collective goodwill have not done nearly enough to protect them.

The excesses of the current administration need to be called out. They are upsetting, disturbing, and cruel. But the lack of real protections and programs, properly and consistently funded goes back a long way, and we all bear some responsibility for that.

The need to do better is something we can all agree on – liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican. Let’s make this our moment to really commit to becoming a society that cares about its kids.

They aren’t someone else’s responsibility, they are all of ours.

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