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Children’s Week begins with organizations urging action

| June 13, 2022 |

Children’s advocacy organizations from around the country kicked off the fifth annual Children’s Week with a schedule of events aimed at urging Congress to better protect the health, safety, and well-being of America’s children.

Children’s Week, which is hosted by the bipartisan advocacy organization First Focus on Children, runs from June 12-18. Children’s Week 2022 unfolds as the country slides backwards on historic gains made for children. With robust leadership and near-unprecedented commitment to children during the pandemic, lawmakers made the most significant investment in decades in children. Legislation passed in response to the coronavirus pandemic — including the improved Child Tax Credit — increased the share of federal spending on children from 7.64% to a historic 11.15%.

Since then, more than 3 million children have slid back into poverty as emergency measures expired. More than 6 million children are poised to lose their health insurance. Hunger will once again ripple through schools and families as federal nutrition waivers end on June 30. And — also once again — an American community is mourning the loss of elementary school children and teachers murdered in their classrooms.

“The kids are not alright,” said Bruce Lesley, President of First Focus on Children. “Children’s Week shines a light on the challenges facing our children — challenges like hunger, homelessness, poverty, gun violence. But we must act in the best interests of our children each and every day. We look forward to working with members of Congress and our partner advocates to make caring for our children the norm, not the exception. Our kids can’t wait any longer for adults to do right by them.”

Throughout the week, First Focus on Children and partner advocates will brief members of Congress on Capitol Hill, host webinars and Twitter chats, and engage Hill staff on important decisions around FY 2023 spending, economic aid, tax credits, gun violence and other challenges facing children.

Organizations from around the children’s community are lending their support.

“If children are the future, it is time to act like it. From gun control to family separation to climate change, we need to stop offering words without action. Our children are suffering, and our political leaders’ response has been woefully insufficient. Thoughts and prayers are not enough. We need to act boldly to make sure our policies match the rhetoric. Children’s issues are family issues. They are community issues. We must make them a national issue.” — Shereen A. White, Director of Advocacy and Policy, Children’s Rights

“ChildFund is so excited to be part of this event featuring an all-youth panel. Young people are the best advocates for themselves and are often underestimated in their ability to affect change. We know that far too many children and youth are not receiving some of the critical support they need from donors like the U.S. government, and it’s critical that we hear from young people directly about the challenges they are facing in this moment where COVID, global conflicts, and climate change are all colliding. I am looking forward to hearing their unique perspectives on foreign policy and the best solutions to motivate us all and galvanize new energy.” — Erin Kennedy, Senior Director for External Engagement, ChildFund, which is a lead sponsor of the Children’s Week briefing “Trailblazers of Today: U.S. Foreign Assistance & the Impact of Youth Engagement,”Tuesday, 6/14, 12pmET. Rayburn HOB 2044. Register at this link.

“The American Academy of Pediatrics is proud to support Children’s Week and join with other organizations dedicated to prioritizing children’s needs. We are living in an especially consequential moment for children’s health right now. This Children’s Week and beyond, pediatricians will continue to show up and speak up for children, on everything from ending gun violence to ensuring they have access to health care. We will not rest until we see meaningful change.” — Mark Del Monte, JD, AAP CEO/Executive Vice President

“We are excited to commemorate Children’s Week and join the call to action on behalf of all our nation’s children. Children of immigrants represent one-quarter of all U.S. kids, which is why it’s critical that our immigration policies promote child wellbeing and family unity. Our country’s future depends on each child — regardless of their or their parents’ immigration status — having access to the education, health care, and other critical services they need to achieve their full potential.” — Wendy Cervantes, Director of Immigration and Immigrant Families at the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) and co-lead of the Children Thrive Action Network.

“While unprecedented strides in supporting children and families have been made in recent years — particularly during the pandemic — we must keep the momentum going. When we invest in children, we’re investing in our future — our future doctors, lawyers, teachers and entrepreneurs. We’re excited to celebrate Children’s Week to shed even more light on issues critical to the success and well-being of children and urge Congress to take action. Our future will be all the brighter for it.” — Mary Nugent, Lead Advocate for Early Childhood Education Policy, Save the Children.

“Young people should be seen, heard, and represented — in court, in legislatures, and everywhere decisions are made about their future. Children’s Week reminds us that every policy issue is a kids’ issue, and that we must advance justice together.” — Allison Green, Legal Director, National Association of Counsel for Children.

“When last year’s expanded Child Tax Credit went into effect, the child poverty rate plummeted almost overnight. Letting millions of kids now fall back into poverty is unacceptable. Policymakers should be building on this kind of transformational policy, not letting it expire. It’s up to Congress to pass a permanently refundable monthly Child Tax Credit, and other bold policies that are the foundation of a more equitable future.” — Joanne Carter, Executive Director, RESULTS

For a full list of events and participants, please visit the Children’s Week 2022 website.  

Julie Beckett’s Legacy Lives On

| June 10, 2022 |

The loss of Julie Beckett, who passed away on May 13th in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was felt across the country. Individuals, families, current and former Members of Congress, Medicaid experts and advocates, and so many others responded with love, respect, and heartfelt tributes.

Tributes were posted from a variety of sources – from families for whom Julie’s advocacy changed their lives, to state and federal government bureaus, and from members of Congress including this speech by Senator Grassley on the floor of the Senate. Her legacy deserves them all.

Her advocacy story began in 1978 months after her daughter Katie was born. In Julie’s own words:

Being a mother has been one of the most gratifying roles of my life. As many parents will attest, there sometimes comes a moment in parenting where you discover strength you didn’t know you had — all because your child needs you.

For me, that moment began 39 years ago when my daughter Katie contracted viral encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain at just four months old. It compromised her tiny immune system and did irreversible damage to her body, requiring her to use a ventilator to breathe and leaving her partially paralyzed. Because of Medicaid rules at the time, we could not take Katie home to manage her care, as we wished, but instead, we were forced to keep her hospitalized for three years as we fought the system.

Our family reached out to everyone until eventually word of Katie’s plight reached President Ronald Reagan himself, who created the Katie Beckett Waiver in an act of compassionate conservatism. The creation of a new federal program allowed people with disabilities to use Medicaid dollars to get health care while living in the community. Ultimately, the Katie Beckett Waiver took effect and Katie came home.

The Katie Beckett Waiver profoundly changed Medicaid and the lives of adults and kids with disabilities. Their families are able to welcome them home, and with the support of community services, they live in their own communities, attend school, have jobs, and live with the people who love them. 

When I first met Julie, I was a child health advocate at the Child and Family Policy Center, now Common Good Iowa, and Julie agreed to speak at an event I was managing. I didn’t know her story before meeting her and I bungled her introduction (and remain embarrassed to this day). Julie kindly corrected my mistakes and then with ease and grace talked about why kids needed Medicaid and coverage from the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Staff from Senators Harkin and Grassley were panelists and she addressed each of them with the same connectedness, zeal, and request for their boss’s support. As a newer advocate in the field, I knew I was in the space of a true expert. I listened at the precision with which she spoke. I could see how the stories she told moved the audience and the Senate staff. I watched as she pressed them for a response, and left room for them to come to agreement at a later time. Her relationships with them were genuine and strong.

After Katie came home from the hospital, Julie kept going. By that time, she was in contact with parents and family advocates from around the country — moms and dads who also wanted the best care for their kids with disabilities and complex medical conditions. She worked as a Parent Consultant for the national Title Five program focused on maternal and child health, one of the first in that role. Other parents and leaders called her a true visionary, she knew there were copious policy opportunities at every level of government and that most often had the best ideas about them.

Out of the health reform work under President Clinton, Family Voices was created with Julie as one of the very first employees. To this day Family Voices has this mission: Family Voices is a national family-led organization of families and friends of children and youth with special health care needs (CYSHCN) and disabilities. We connect a network of family organizations across the United States that provide support to families of CYSHCN. We promote partnership with families at all levels of health care–individual and policy decision-making levels—in order to improve health care services and policies for children.

With Family Voices going, Julie helped establish the Family-to-Family Health Information Centers (F2Fs) in 2005. These are family-led centers funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA.) Each state has an F2F, as does the District of Columbia, five U.S. territories, and three F2Fs serve tribal communities. Each F2F is staffed by highly-skilled, knowledgeable family members who have first-hand experience and understanding of the challenges faced by the families they serve. These uniquely qualified staff provide critical support to families caring for kids with disabilities particularly families ofchildren with complex needsand those fromdiverse communities. F2Fs also assist providers, state and federal agencies, legislators, and other stakeholders to better understand and serve CYSHCN and their families. 

The Family-to-Family program was flat-funded at $5 million for a decade and in 2016 received a $1 million increase in order to add five U.S. territories and three tribal communities. In honor of Julie and all she did for children and families across the country, Family Voices are asking the Appropriations Committees to increase the funding to $12 million annually. Kids and families deserve this increase as does Julie’s legacy. 

Thank you, Julie for all you taught us about advocacy, for never giving up, and for changing so many lives for the better. Your memory will continue to inspire us. 

Our Kids Need and Deserve Champions

| June 2, 2022 |

First Focus Campaign for Children just released our 2021 Champions for Children Legislative Scorecard, which analyzed the sponsors of over 300 pieces of legislation in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives and 16 key votes to identify the 120 top Champions and Defenders of Children. The report also identifies the eight Members of Congress who are failing children by being the worst-performing members in the Legislative Scorecard.

Children are not allowed to vote in our democracy, so they must depend on adults to be their champions and protect their health, education, safety, and well-being. At a time when every single aspect of the lives of children has been threatened by the global COVID-19 pandemic and ensuring economic downturn, kids need the adults in society to take action to help them achieve their greatest hopes and dreams and to ensure the future success of our nation. This is in all of our interest.

Unfortunately, children have historically been treated as an afterthought among policymakers. Research in social stereotyping by Steven Neuberg, et al., finds that certain populations, such as children, who are “generally low in power and status,” are “especially likely to be invisible,” particularly in comparison to high-status groups. 

Political scientists Anne L. Schneider, and Helen M. Ingram have found that policymakers adopt “anticipatory feedback strategies” to prioritize policies and allocate resources to more politically powerful groups, and to punish groups deemed to be unworthy. With respect to “dependents,” they find children evoke sympathy and compassion, and therefore, elicit “promises” and “positive-sounding rhetoric” but “few if any material gains.”

Due to the vulnerability and dependence of children, they also sometimes find themselves subjects of what Charles Piece and Gail Allen have referred to as “childism” or “the automatic presumption of superiority of any adult over any child” that results in “authoritative, unilateral decisions” by some adults toward children.

On New Year’s Eve in 2018, the Washington Post’s Colby Itkowitz described how children’s concerns and needs (both domestically and internationally) are often invisible or ignored in policy debates before the White House and Congress. She writes: 

The mistreatment or disregard of American and foreign children at the hands of the United States is not a new problem…. When issues from guns to immigration to health care to foreign affairs are viewed through the lens of how they affect children, it becomes clear the young are an afterthought when it comes to public policy. 

Therefore, the purpose of the Legislative Scorecard is to:

  1. Overcome the structural barriers children face on Capitol Hill and highlight the impact that public policy (including non-action) has on kids and the families who care for them
  2. Alert lawmakers to key policy issues before Congress (both pro and con) and, along with our Bill Tracker, give child advocates additional tools to help raise awareness about how pieces of legislation before Congress impact children
  3. Hold lawmakers accountable for these actions in support or opposition to those priorities
  4. Thank lawmakers that make children a priority in their work and push others to do better by our kids.

2021’s Champions and Defenders of Children in Congress and the White House 

Between 2016 and 2020, the share of federal spending on children dropped from 10.21% to 7.64%. The Trump Administration and Congress failed to prioritize children in their work, and in some cases, actively targeted children for disproportionate cuts. When not actively harming kids, as Itkowitz noted, kids were largely an afterthought. 

As an example, in 2019, Fatherly’s Lizzy Francis highlighted how, despite the presence of a number of bipartisan bills in Congress, there was not a single bill of major significance and focus on children that was even voted on in the U.S. Senate. 

Fortunately, that changed in 2021. After taking office in January of last year, President Biden and members of the 117th Congress recognized that children and their families were suffering as a result of the global pandemic and economic recession. They actively worked to pass the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act, which was the most significant short-term investment in children in decades.  

ARP made long-overdue investments in family economics, education, early childhood, child care, family medical leave, child nutrition, and health care.  As a result, the share of federal spending dedicated to children rose from its lowest level of 7.64% in 2020 during the last year of the Trump Administration to a high of 11.15% in 2021

Due to the investments made by that legislation, including an expansion of the Child Tax Credit, child poverty was reduced by 40 percent (see analysis by the Urban Institute and the Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University) and child hunger was significantly reduced.

These investments in the Child Tax Credit were made because of the years of work done by Champions and Defenders of Children like Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Suzan DelBene (D-WA), Ritchie Torres (D-NY), Richard Neal (D-MA), Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and Sens. Michael Bennet (D-CO), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Raphael Warnock (D-GA), and Ron Wyden (D-OR), who made children and families a top priority and tirelessly pushed for the inclusion of the Child Tax Credit in the ARP package.

In the 1991 bipartisan National Commission on Children’s report, the Child Tax Credit was recommended to be established and made fully refundable. Although the Child Tax Credit was established in 1997, it took another 24 years to make it fully refundable and the leaders of that package are appropriately recognized and appreciated for that work as recognized Champions and Defenders of Children. 

So yes, leadership matters and, if we want to make progress for our nation’s children, it should be recognized, encouraged, and affirmed. The Legislative Scorecard expressly tells us, “Who’s for kids, and who’s just kidding.” 

Booker (D-NJ) and Hayes (D-CT) Are the Top Champions for Children in 2021 

As priorities change with each Congress, different members of the House and Senate rise to the top in the Legislative Scorecard. For 2021, the top Senate and House members were Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Jahana Hayes (D-CT), respectively. We wish to give them both special recognition for their outstanding support of children in 2021. 

The Gender Gap Persists: Women are 2.1 Times More Likely to Be Champions/Defenders 

The Legislative Scorecard also tells us a great deal about who and where support is coming from. For example, women in Congress were 2.1 times more likely to be a Champion or Defender of Children than their male peers in 2021. This is down from a 2.7-to-1 margin in 2020, but women continue to fare much better on the Legislative Scorecard than men. 

In the House of Representatives, women represent about one-quarter of the membership, but 13 of the top 15 (86.7%) House Champions for Children were women. In contrast, of the 100 worst performing House members on the Legislative Scorecard, 86 (86%) were men.  

If we ever are to be successful in improving child policy and outcomes for children, men in Congress must do better.  

Partisanship, Too Often, Overrides Support for Child and Family Policy Improvements 

Child advocates fully recognize that partisan politics are a fact of life on Capitol Hill, but children’s policy issues have historically engendered efforts to find common ground and carve out bipartisan support. Landmark legislation, such as Head Start, the Child Tax Credit, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) have all had strong bipartisan support over the years.  

The trend of increasing polarization in Congress has been detrimental to child and family policy. However, as this report demonstrates, there remain a number of bills and policy areas in which bipartisan support continues. We urge Congress to take action on many of the bills listed in our report. Our children and their future should be a place in which we strive to find that common ground. 

Children’s Week is June 12-18. During that week in particular, we urge Members of Congress to put aside their partisan differences and get legislation passed to improve child well-being. There is a litany of options in this report from which to choose. 

The Regional Divide for Children 

First Focus Campaign for Children’s Legislative Scorecard also identifies significant differences in support for our nation’s children by region. 

  • The Northeast continues to lead all regions: 40% of House and Senate members (48 members in total) from the Northeast (Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware) were Champions or Defenders of Children in 2021. 
  • The West continues to place second: The Western region (Alaska, Hawaii, California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Nevada) led all regions in the 2019 report but now 27% of its House and Senate members (32 in total) were Champions or Defenders of Children. 
  • The Midwest has fallen a bit: In 2020, 24% of House and Senate members (17 in total) in the Midwest (Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and Missouri) qualified as Champions or Defenders of Children but that number dropped to 14% in 2021. 
  • The Southeast moved out of the basement: In 2020, the Southeast (Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Arkansas) had a paltry 5% qualify as Champions or Defenders. That percentage rose to 13% in 2021, as the members recognized from the region increased from 7 to 16.   
  • The Southwest and Plains states are lagging far behind: The Southwest (Arizona, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas) and Plains states (Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota) states keep falling behind, with only 7% of their members (just 7 out of 99) qualifying as were Champions or Defenders.  

Are Certain States More Likely to Elect “Pro-Child” Politicians or Demand that Lawmakers Support Children? 

Finally, the Annie E. Casey Foundation issues an annual report it calls KIDS COUNT, which uses various indicators of child well-being to rank states on how well they perform on kids’ issues. In looking at the top, middle, and bottom third of states, according to that ranking, it is interesting to note that there appears to be a culture of support for kids in certain states that either cause them to elect “pro-child” politicians and/or that create a demand of support for children by their policymakers. 

Based on the correlation between high-performing states and top lawmakers in Congress, one might surmise that the public in certain states create expectations and cultures that prioritize children’s issues and cause policymakers to be more supportive of children’s issues. The lawmakers in the top 17 KIDS COUNT states are 2.8 times more likely to be Champions or Defenders of Children than the House and Senate members in the bottom 17 states. 

For example: 

  • AECF Top States: The highest-ranking states in the KIDS COUNT report for 2021 were Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Vermont, Utah, New Jersey, Nebraska, Connecticut, Iowa, Wisconsin, Maine, North Dakota, Virginia, Washington, Colorado, Idaho, and Wyoming. Of these states, 32% were Champions or Defenders. 
  • AECF Middle States: The states in the middle of the KIDS COUNT rankings were Kansas, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Illinois, Montana, Rhode Island, Maryland, Oregon, Hawaii, New York, Michigan, Indiana, Missouri, Ohio, Delaware, and California. Of those states, 26% were Champions or Defenders. 
  • AECF Lowest States: The states at the bottom of the KIDS COUNT rankings were North Carolina, Florida, Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia, Arkansas, Arizona, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Alaska, West Virginia, Nevada, Texas, Alabama, Louisiana, New Mexico, and Mississippi. Of these states, just 11% were Champions or Defenders. 

The Eight Worst Members of Congress 

In First Focus Campaign for Children’s Legislative Scorecard, we have focused on the 120 top Champions and Defenders of Children. However, this begs the question as to who are the worst-performing congressional members. 

That dishonor in 2021 goes to the following eight House and Senate members: Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Reps. Matthew Rosendale (R-MT), Chip Roy (R-TX), Ralph Norman (R-SC), Tom McClintock (R-CA), Jody Hice (R-GA), Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), and Lauren Boebert (R-CO). We call on them to do much, much better in 2022. 

A “perfect storm” for school staff shortages

| May 19, 2022 |

Schools across the country face a burgeoning crisis, which was long-growing but exacerbated by the COVID pandemic. A recent report from the Economic Policy Institute points to a precipitous drop in school employment: “As of December 2021, public elementary and secondary school employment was down 376,300 (or 4.7%) from its February 2020 level on a seasonally adjusted basis.” And that number belies a greater drop over more than a decade: As of 2021, K-12 public education employment is down 432,000. Further, student populations have increased. If schools were to maintain “the same classroom sizes and [staff to student] ratios—K–12 public education employment today would be 658,000 (or 8.6%) higher than it was in December 2021.” Add to that the fact that COVID restrictions and the attendant process of bringing kids back to in-person schooling means staffing needs are greater than they were before the pandemic. 

What’s happening? Underpay, COVID risk, and politicization have coalesced to create a perfect storm for school staff shortages. The report points out:  

“From 2014 to 2019, the median weekly wage of food service workers in K–12 education was $331 per week (2020 dollars)—less than half the median weekly wage of workers in the economy overall. Similarly, bus drivers and teaching assistants are paid roughly $500 per week—just over 60% of the overall median.” 

Many school staffing positions are part-time, compounding the issue of low pay. Even for full-time employees, low salaries mean moonlighting a second job has become a common occurrence for school staff. This table shows just how far teacher salaries lag behind those of their peers. 

What are the concrete motivations for teaching, besides the assumption of sweeping benevolence, that teachers and school staff are selfless “heroes” who owe their service to our children? Teachers and school staff are disrespected, underpaid, and under-supported, time and time again, with the only counterpose that they are doing some great service to our nation’s youth. The “teacher as superhero” rhetoric (curiously, those most often referred to as “essential workers” often are paid and respected the least) is no substitute for a livable salary and reasonable working conditions. Schoolwork, after all, is not charity work. 

These problems are manufactured. Overwhelmingly, teachers don’t leave their jobs because of classroom issues. Yet, children will be the ones to pay the price. They are the ones who will see favorite teachers leaving, ballooning student-to-teacher ratios, and the inevitable ever-widening inequality as resources and student populations flow to charter and private schools, leaving the poorest and most in-need children to fend for themselves in underfunded public schools.  

No one is waiting in the wings and this problem only looks to be getting worse. Another report by EPI details how hard it is to retain current staff. “The share of schools that reported having vacancies to fill grew from two-thirds in the 2011–2012 school year to nearly four-in-five schools by the 2015–2016 school year.” Further, the report notes that schools struggle to find replacements: “The share reporting that it was ‘very difficult’ to fill vacancies nearly doubled, from 19.7% to 36.2%.”

These conditions will be distorted to argue for less public school funding and more charters and private schools. Critics of public education have invested heavily in the theory that the free market will fix our education system

We find ourselves amid the slow dawning of a great tragedy. One of the central institutions of our democracy is being thrown to the wolves: Public education and the right to equitable education, for all. What lies ahead if we allow the behemoth of privatization to consume this foundation of people-centered government? 

There are short-term answers. Schools can use much of the COVID pandemic aid to hire staff. As EPI notes, “many states and localities confronting shortages right now have more capacity to address funding and pay issues than they likely have had in decades. Congressional pandemic relief measures have provided unprecedented levels of federal funding to states, counties, municipal governments, tribal territories, and school districts.” Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced the RAISE Act, which provides yearly tax credits, starting at $1,000, to teachers “based on a sliding scale that offers the most credits to teachers working in high-poverty schools.” The President’s FY 2023 Budget proposes some funding that would give money to schools to expand staffing. Among these proposals is the new $1 billion School-Based Mental Health Professionals program, which helps expand social-emotional health supports within schools, where many kids lack access to counselors, nurses, and social workers. These modest proposals do well by increasing education funding, but we need a system overhaul — a recommitment to public education as a necessary public good — to counter the ebbing tide of school resourcing. 

We must fund public education to the fullest, pay teachers competitive wages, and concretely (not rhetorically) support a diverse cohort of teachers to take on the charge of entering into dialogue with, supporting, and teaching the next generation.

Schools cannot be a weapon for political jousting. Schools are many things: Playgrounds, gardens, classrooms, open fields, cafeterias, libraries, all of these commonly held spaces. In the midst of swirling political debates in schools, from laws hamstringing open discussion in Florida and Texas schools, to the fight against charter-ization and privatization, we must affirm education’s role not only as a public good, but as the very realization of democracy itself. Education as a public good requires robust investment and support for the humans who breathe life into the schoolhouses and nurture students day in and day out. 

There Must be an “After Title 42” for Border Policy

| May 17, 2022 |

From the beginning, First Focus on Children has decried the cruelty of the Title 42 policy, a Trump Administration policy that misused a public health law and the COVID-19 pandemic as pretexts to summarily turn back asylum seekers at our border. This policy applied to all asylum seekers—children, families, and other marginalized communities who would face outsized harm either in Mexico or in their home country. The numbers have borne this out—as of April 2022, the organization Human Rights First had found more than 10,000 publicly reported instances of violence, kidnapping, sexual assault, and other attacks against migrants expelled under Title 42, including against children. Black, brown, and LGBTQ migrants have experienced a disproportionate amount of the harm. All of this despite U.S. law that has provided a right to seek safety from persecution and violence for decades.

For two years we asked, when will this cruel policy end? Last month, the Biden Administration provided an answer: May 23rd.

After years of advocacy by public health experts, immigrant rights advocates, children’s advocates, and migrants themselves, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an order ending the Title 42 policy. The order states what has always been true: There is no public health reason to expel immigrants at the border, and especially now with the wide availability of COVID-19 vaccines and the long list of other preventative measures, like masks, testing, and treatment, to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

This announcement was welcome news. But soon after it came out, members of Congress began to call for this policy to remain in place—not for any public health reason, but as a deterrent policy against migration. Bills introduced in the House and Senate would keep the Title 42 expulsion policy in place by tying the end of the policy to the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency. These bills forget that asylum seekers arriving at our border are not new—it has been a legal right for decades and was the regular order of operations for years before the pandemic. These bills forget that deterrence-based policy at our borders has never stopped migration and has only increased harm to children and families across multiple administrations. These bills would jeopardize much needed COVID-19 funding—funding that children desperately need as the least vaccinated age group and as cases in children continue to rise—for a policy that is not based in public health, that has failed as a border management measure, and that subjects children to violence and family separation.

Children and families who come to our country have fled violence, persecution, trafficking, and any number of dangerous situations. The cost of denying them the opportunity to seek safety is too great. Our country has a long and proud tradition of welcoming children, families, and individuals who need protection from persecution, violence, and torture. We must stand firm in our constitutional principles of due process, which means that every person has a fair opportunity to make their case for protection. We cannot and should not abandon those principles. We have the capacity, both in resources and compassion, to welcome children and families seeking safety with a fair, orderly, and humane immigration system starting at the border.

If our policymakers ask, “What policy is best for children?” there are clear, common-sense border solutions that advance the health, safety, family unity, and development of children and that, in fact, create a fair, orderly, and humane immigration system. Border policies must:

  • Welcome and process children, families, and individuals seeking asylum in a manner that keeps families together, provides humanitarian assistance, and connects them with government-supported organizations providing shelter, reception, and support for people’s immigration cases and final destinations
  • Allow children and their families to pursue their immigration cases in the community with access to community-based services that help them understand the immigration system and recover from their trauma
  • Grant children and families a fair opportunity to make their claim for protection within a meaningful timeframe, and with legal and social services to develop their immigration case

The American people have repeatedly said they want the United States to be a nation that makes the best interests of children our primary consideration and upholds our values of welcome and due process. To fulfill that promise, policymakers must support and work toward an “after Title 42” for border policy, and they must do it now.

Click here to reach out to your members of Congress and urge them to reject all efforts to keep Title 42 in place.

Watch: Experts say children struggled with orphanhood, other impacts internationally

| May 2, 2022 |

Nearly 52 million children around the world have been documented with childhood COVID and more than 7 million have lost a caregiver to the pandemic. 

In our KCC panel on Global Health and Secondary Impacts, experts called for increased funding, coordination, and tracking of new and existing programs to deal with the simultaneous worldwide crises of orphanhood, educational gaps, violence against children, and other results of the pandemic that go beyond vaccines and death.

For some mind-boggling stats, check out our fact sheet.

Watch: Fixing the severed school lifeline

| April 28, 2022 |

In the chaotic onset of the coronavirus pandemic, school nutrition leaders appealed to the Trump Administration to let them handle the crisis as if it were a natural disaster, a change that would have allowed more food to flow to more children and to their families. The answer was no.

“We need to sit down and figure out how to do this not if but when it happens again,” Katie Wilson, Executive Director at Urban School Food Alliance, told First Focus on Children’s Kids and COVID Conversation panel on Education and Nutrition this week. “There is a way, we do it with natural disasters, why we thought this was different, I don’t know. So many families were in need, almost instantaneously. They were looking to schools as a safe place.”

For millions of children, schools provide a lifeline — to education, food, health care, and other services. As they scrambled to reach students and their families during the pandemic, school officials entered uncharted territory. During our final panel on Kids and COVID, educators examined what went right, what went wrong and how to help the nation’s schools — and its students — recover. Their recommendations include:

Leverage school meal programs

School nutrition employees began feeding students curbside within 24 hours of school closures, Wilson said. To leverage the full potential of school meal programs, now and during future disasters, she recommends eliminating the income test for school meal programs and providing universal school meals. “It’s the only thing in a school building where a child’s family income impacts whether they get access to a service,” she said. In addition, during future disasters, the government should allow schools to serve the community as a whole, rather than adhere to per meal reimbursement and other restrictions of school meals, she said, which would allow them to reach more people more efficiently.

Cultivate a school-based health care workforce

The majority of school-based health centers remained open during the pandemic, School-Based Health Alliance CEO Robert Boyd told the panel, and provided critical primary care, mental health care, COVID and vaccine education, and shot clinics. Many centers also initiated or expanded telehealth services, he said, including for mental health. To maintain and build on this success, Boyd recommends cultivating a steady workforce by channeling students into the profession as early as middle school and using the public university infrastructure to train them. Workforce is the No. 1 issue in health care in schools — as in other health care settings — Boyd said.

Create more community school coordinators

Community schools — which are public schools that partner with local organizations to connect students, families, and the larger community to each other and to resources — played a critical role during the pandemic, said José Muñoz, Director of the Coalition of Community Schools. In places like Asheville, N.C., Oakland, Calif., Skokie, Ill., and Cincinnati, community schools rallied to provide family food boxes, resiliency kits for kids, vaccine clinics, after-school programming, and other needed services. To build on that success, Muñoz said, the country needs more “community school coordinators,” which he described as the equivalent of a director of operations. “Think about the power of the public school,” he said. “Every single day you have access to people that live in a broader community. We’re way under-utilizing the power of the public school community. But it has to be someone’s job every day.” Muñoz cited a study in Albuquerque that found that every $1 invested in community school coordinators delivered a $7.11 return on investment.

In the end, panelists offered one overarching takeaway from their pandemic experience: “Feed all kids. Educate all kids. Provide free health care to all kids who need it,” Boyd said. “It’s that simple. We’re the greatest country in the world. It’s a sin. It’s a shame. It’s a travesty to not take care of our kids. Let’s keep the focus on the kids. They’re the future.”

Watch: Studies show Children enjoyed more stable lives with pandemic aid

| April 20, 2022 |

Analysts from Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan have found that federal pandemic assistance helped close the persistent gap in material hardship for U.S. families with children and that the advances stuck even in the face of rising inflation.

“The concerns over rising prices have dominated the headlines, but those concerns need to be placed in conversation with the gains of low-income households,” Patrick Cooney, Assistant Director of Economic Mobility for Poverty Solutions, told this week’s Kids and COVID panel on the pandemic’s economic impact

In fact, Poverty Solutions found that stimulus payments and safety net improvements such as increased unemployment benefits placed the average U.S. household — and especially low-income households — in a better financial position in 2020 and throughout 2021 than in 2019. Material hardship persisted however for households with children — a gap that was narrowed by the improved Child Tax Credit. The improved CTC expired at the end of 2021.

“When we look at all the things we should be doing, that’s the piece that’s most obvious we need to get done,” Cooney said.

The perpetual caveat, of course, is that the recovery is uneven. Women, and especially low-income women and women of color, have borne the brunt of pandemic job losses, said Julie Vogtman, Director of Job Quality for the National Women’s Law Center. The stimulus measures helped children eat, go to school, and remain housed during the pandemic, she added, but they weren’t designed to combat the structural barriers to economic security that women faced long before the pandemic began, such as lack of child care and wage inequality.

“Care infrastructure investments are the thing we cannot give up on,” she said. “We need to finally treat child care like the public good that it is and invest in it accordingly.”

Older and former foster youth — often called transition-age youth (TAY) — benefitted from improvements to the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), said Anna Johnson, an associate director with John Burton Advocates for Youth, who called on Congress to make these changes permanent. These 18-24-year-olds experience the highest rates of unemployment, she said, and will take the longest to rejoin the workforce and recover income losses. Advocates helped 147 current and former foster youth claim nearly $370,000 in federal and state refunds in the filing cycle that ended this week, she said. The average return will be $2555 per person.

“This isn’t pocket change,” she said. “They go and pay off their debts, they buy food for their kids and they fix their car so they can go to work. We need this to be ongoing to recover.”

Resources referenced during the session:

University of Michigan:  Material Hardship and Well-Being of U.S. Households at the End of 2021

From NWLC/Julie Vogtman:

Resilient But Not Recovered

We Are the Backbone: Faces of Care campaign

Watch: Epidemiologist urges holistic approach to childhood COVID

| April 14, 2022 |

Epidemiologist Theresa Chapple brought us an out-of-the-box perspective on this week’s Kids And COVID Conversation, starting with the consequences of comparing childhood COVID to the adult experience.

“When we’re looking at asthma, we really focus in on childhood asthma and what that means, and the impact childhood asthma has on missing school and quality of life for children,” Dr. Chapple said during First Focus on Children’s conversation about physical health and vaccinations. “It makes really good sense to have these conversations where we’re drilling in on children and not comparing them to adults but comparing them to what a healthy childhood is like.”

This unfortunate comparison set off a cascade of events, Dr. Chapple said, including low child vaccination rates, underestimates of COVID’s social, emotional, and physical impact on children, misinterpretations of educational outcomes, and a host of other challenges for children.

Questions we should be asking:

  • What happens when kids gets COVID? What are the specific physical impacts? How does fear of the disease — and of infecting people they love — affect their well-being? COVID is now among the top 10 causes of death in children. “That does not get said enough,” Dr. Chapple said. “Children with COVID can have life-changing events.”
  • Are we measuring the right things? “Deaths and hospitalizations are the tip of the iceberg,” Dr. Chapple said. “We need to drill down further – what happens before death? What happens before hospitalizations?”
  • What is our goal as a community? As the United States? “From a public health perspective, I wonder why our goal isn’t to prevent transmission, to keep people from getting the disease,” Dr. Chapple said, citing arguments of personal choice about vaccination and other mitigations. “Do we want to focus on individual protections? Or should we be focusing on protecting the health of our communities? These are real conversations that need to happen.”


  • Overhaul data collection: Home tests, lack of household transmission numbers, and the persistent view that COVID is not a big deal in kids have created a lack of documentation for core data that could help medical experts evaluate developmental delays and other residual effects years from now. “Policies that encourage appropriate data collection and testing among children is the number one thing we need,” Dr. Chapple said.
  • Make system-level mitigations: Every car has airbags. Every school, child care center, bouncy house, indoor play space, and other child-centered venue should have adequate ventilation.
  • Reduce class sizes: Individual attention is among the many reasons that smaller classes benefit children, Dr. Chapple said. Inhibiting the transmission of COVID is just one more.

To register for future Kids And COVID Conversations, sign up here. To watch all of the Kids And Covid Conversation Series check out our website.

Watch: Child poverty experts outline successful strategies

| April 12, 2022 |

Earlier today, the U.S. Child Poverty Action Group, GRACE & End Child Poverty California campaign, and the First Focus Campaign for Children hosted a virtual event, Ending Child Poverty at the Federal and State Level

We were joined by six Congressional champions on child poverty — Rep. Karen Bass, Rep. Judy Chu, Rep. Danny Davis, Rep. Jimmy Gomez, Rep. Sara Jacobs, and Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard — and learned about recent wins across the country and how child advocates can take action to build on these efforts to urge Congress to pass the Child Poverty Reduction Act (S. 643/H.R. 1558) and establish a national child poverty reduction target in the United States.

I also discussed these efforts with an expert panel featuring Shimica Gaskins, President & CEO, GRACE & End Child Poverty CA, Crystal Charles, Policy Analyst, Schuyler Center for Analysis and Advocacy, and Carmen Isaura Rodriguez, Director of Advocacy, Instituto del Desarrollo de la Juventud (Youth Development Institute).

The recent progress made in reducing child poverty in the United States shows us that child poverty is a solvable problem when there is the political will to address it.  Yet the fact that the 2021 improvements to the Child Tax Credit have yet to be extended, despite their documented effectiveness and popularity, shows that we need to do more to hold our national, state, and local decision-makers accountable for keeping child poverty reduction a top priority.

California provides a strong example for the rest of the country.  After advocates, lawmakers, and researchers came together in 2017 to set a state child poverty reduction target and develop a comprehensive plan to meet this goal, the End Child Poverty in California campaign secured significant policy wins in the past few years that are having a big impact on reducing child poverty and racial and economic disparities. New York and Puerto Rico have recently followed suit with similar efforts.

For those who are interested, here are the few of the resources discussed during the session: