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WATCH: Rep. Barragán explains why we need to make CHIP permanent

| July 22, 2021 |

This week, Congressional leadership received a letter signed by over 500 local and national organizations (representing all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico) asking them to enact a permanent extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) — as we have done for Medicare, Medicaid, and other health programs. One member of Congress, however, who won’t need convincing is Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragán of California who has introduced H.R. 1791, the Children’s Health Insurance Program Permanency (CHIPP) Act to do just that. First Focus Campaign for Children president, Bruce Lesley sat down with her recently to discuss why this legislation is so vital for the 10 million children and hundreds of thousands of pregnant women who rely on CHIP for their coverage. 

Rep. Barragán explains — in detail — what CHIP means for millions of families in the United States and what a lapse in or barrier to coverage could mean. But, as she puts it, it really comes down to a simple question — “Are you for the children? Or are you not for the children?”

And it really is that simple for most American voters, as well. In a 2020 election-eve survey of voters by Lake Research Partners, a majority of voters — regardless of political party affiliation — said that they support CHIP permanency with 85% of voters saying that we should “ensure that every child in the U.S. has health insurance coverage.” If those numbers don’t convince you, Bruce Lesley recently laid out 10 million more reasons why we should protect the health of kids.

The fact is, CHIP is the only federal health coverage program that is temporary and repeatedly needs to be reauthorized by Congress. This is wrong and we need to work together to ensure that no child is at risk of losing health care because of policy decisions (or indecision). As Rep. Barragán put it: “Our current health care system fails when there is any barrier to a child receiving insurance coverage.”

We urge you to call your member of Congress and ask them to join the growing list of co-sponsors (or thank them for being one already) on this vital piece of legislation.


Biden & Congress must support the nearly 4 million families with children facing housing instability

| July 22, 2021 |

Housing should be a fundamental right for all children and families in the United States — not a privilege. Yet, the economic and public health repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic have deepened the U.S. housing crisis. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) first issued a national eviction moratorium almost one year ago, which resulted in 50% fewer eviction filings compared to the historical average in 2020. However, with the CDC eviction moratorium set to expire July 31, 2021, roughly 4 million adults with children struggling to pay rent will lose federal protection from evictions.

Households with children are more likely to fall behind in rent than households without children and the number of families struggling to pay rent has risen. As of June 2021, nearly 8 million people across the nation are behind in their rent, with children living in about half of these households. About half of these families with children reported that they likely will have to leave their home due to an eviction in the next two months. Moreover, many of these numbers are likely underreported, out of fear that the child welfare system or immigration enforcement could get involved.

Evictions can be detrimental to a child’s bio-psychosocial development and well-being. Research has demonstrated a link between evictions and housing instability and a decrease in a child’s academic performance, as well as poor physical and emotional health outcomes, which can have a negative effect on their socioeconomic mobility. Evictions can affect a parent’s credit record and influence their ability to secure future housing. A child’s life can be uprooted as a move often means switching schools and increasing the likelihood of moving into a neighborhood with less opportunity for upward mobility.

Children and families of color face the highest risk of eviction due to historic discriminatory housing and labor market policies. Multiple studies find that prior to the pandemic, Black single mothers and Black and Latino renters were at the greatest risk of eviction, with rates during the pandemic mirroring these disparities. Princeton University’s Eviction Lab reported that between March 15th and December 31, 2020, nearly 23% of renters tracked were Black, yet they received more than 35% of all evictions.

While the CDC eviction moratorium helped to prevent or slow the eviction process in many cases, the protection afforded by the moratorium varied. The enforcement of the moratorium differed among states and local governments, and many families with children living temporarily in hotel or motel rooms or doubled-up with others were excluded from any protection from eviction. Additionally, differences in application, adoption and implementation of the moratorium fostered confusion among families about the eviction process. Furthermore, many renters and landlords have not been able to access federal emergency rental assistance yet to help prevent evictions, with over half of renters and 40 percent of landlords not aware that rental assistance is available.

To help the millions of households with children who are at risk of an eviction or experiencing homelessness, we urge Congress to sustain and build on the significant investments for children in the American Rescue Plan. First Focus Campaign for Children offers the following recommendations to help these families:

  1. Extending the CDC eviction moratorium once again to give more time for households to recover and allow state and local governments more time in distributing rental assistance.
  2. Increasing both rental assistance and homeless assistance and ensuring communities are making families with children a priority for this funding.
  3. Making the improvements to the Child Tax Credit in the American Rescue Plan permanent so households with children can continue to receive monthly cash assistance to use for rent and other resources.    
  4. Boosting funding for the Legal Services Corporation so more households with children can access civil legal services for housing disputes and other legal matters.
  5. Increasing funding for child care, nutrition, health care, and education assistance.

We also support the bipartisan Family Stability and Opportunity Vouchers Act (S. 1991), led by Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Todd Young (R-IN), which would create 500,000 additional housing vouchers for low-income families with young children and pregnant women who are experiencing homelessness or housing instability.

President Biden recently stated that “our children are the kite strings that lift our national ambitions aloft.” We are at a critical opportunity to continue uplifting the needs of our nation’s children and families. The Biden Administration and Congress acted boldly and quickly to pass policy that safeguarded hundreds of thousands of children and families from evictions during the pandemic. We urge both President Biden and Congress to ensure that upon the expiration of the federal eviction moratorium, there are policies in place that ensure every single child in the U.S. has access to safe, secure and stable housing.


10 Million Reasons to Protect the Health of Children

| July 21, 2021 |

We should never gamble with or play politics with the health of millions of children.

Therefore, to protect the health security and well-being of 10 million children, Rep. Nanette Barragán (D-CA) has introduced H.R. 1791, the Children’s Health Insurance Program Permanency (CHIPP) Act with 8 cosponsors, and Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL) has introduced H.R. 66, the Comprehensive Access to Robust Insurance Now Guaranteed (CARING) for Kids Act, with Rep. Lucy McBath (D-GA).

We should never gamble with or play politics with the health of millions of children.

These bills would make the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) permanent, just like Medicare and Medicaid, and thereby ensures that the 10 million children that receive health insurance through CHIP will never have to worry that their coverage might expire in mid-year and in the midst of health care treatment again.

Unfortunately, CHIP has faced far too many near-death experiences in the past and left families, providers, and states forced to create contingency plans for the care and coverage of children. The health care of children is too important to their lives and well-being to allow it to be threatened or put at risk ever again.

Back in 2017, CHIP was scheduled to expire at the end of September. Despite an enormous push by parents, child advocates, health care groups, and governors from all across the country with no real opposition, Congress and President Donald Trump allowed CHIP to expire for four long months. This neglect, once again, threatened the health coverage of 10 million children and pregnant women across this country.

Although polling in November 2017 found an overwhelming 88 percent of American voters felt that CHIP should be a top or important priority of President Trump and Congress and there were dire warnings about the negative consequences that failure to extend CHIP would have on coverage, Congress and President Trump failed to act.

President Trump, who tweeted about nearly everything else during his presidency only once even mentioned CHIP but did so inaccurately.

Even worse, after the effort to abolish the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was defeated and the tax cuts were enacted, CHIP remained in limbo as some Members of Congress used CHIP as a “bargaining chip” to push for unrelated budget or immigration policies.

At the time, Linda Nablo, the chief deputy director of the Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services explained:

CHIP is being used as a pawn in larger debates and negotiations. It has fallen victim to the dysfunction and partisanship in Congress.

To mitigate harm, Congress passed three separate funding extensions and finally reached an agreement on a budget deal to ensure CHIP’s ultimate reauthorization on February 9, 2018 (more than four months or 132 days after it had initially expired).

This should never happen again. The lives and well-being of children should never be used as a bargaining chip.

Enactment of the language in the CHIPP or CARING Act would ensure that the health coverage of children is no longer subjected to arbitrary deadlines and funding cliffs that lead to chaos, distress, and anxiety for families all across this country.

In 2017, Myra Gregory described the threat that the CHIP funding expiration posed for her 11-year-old son Roland, who was diagnosed with lung cancer. In her editorial in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Gregory described the frustration and desperation CHIP’s expiration placed on her family and her son’s treatment:

I understand that our society is divided right now. I understand that Republicans and Democrats can have honest differences of opinion. What I cannot understand is how the U.S. Congress could make the health security of kids like Roland a guessing game, and their lives bargaining chips. Watching my baby fight for his life this past year has been agonizing. I’ve held him in my arms while he cries in pain, I’ve experienced anxiety and stress I thought I would never overcome, and I have had to have conversations with Roland’s younger brothers that no child should have to have. I have always known that our situation could get worse, but I never imagined that Congress would be an obstacle in my son’s battle with cancer.

Making CHIP permanent provides much-needed health security to children and families so that children with cancer, heart conditions, asthma, or other chronic illnesses do not have their care disrupted because of political neglect.

The CHIPP or CARING Act language should also be passed simply as a matter of fairness. Congress would never allow the health coverage of senior citizens, veterans, or even their own health care coverage to be subjected to repeated expirations as they do for children. In fact, every other federal health coverage program, including Medicare, Medicaid, the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP), health care for veterans, military health coverage (TRICARE), and private employer health care tax credits, are permanent and don’t have arbitrary expiration dates. There is just one federal health coverage program that faces periodic extinction, and it is the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

By making CHIP permanent, Reps. Barragán and Buchanan remove this threat to the health coverage of 10 million children. In addition, their bills give child advocates, Congress, and state administrators of the program the ability to actually work on improving the health of our nation’s children.

Unfortunately, over the years, the attention of Congress, child advocates, health care providers, and states has largely been focused on the need to protect CHIP from repeated threats rather than focusing on program innovation and other important child health issues, such as:

  • Covering all children/reversing the recent rise in uninsured children;
  • Long-term implications of COVID-19 to child health;
  • Rising health care costs;
  • Infant and maternal mortality;
  • Racial and ethnic disparities;
  • Childhood cancer;
  • Developmental screenings and services;
  • Children with special health care needs;
  • Rising suicide rates;
  • Mental and behavioral health;
  • Substance abuse;
  • Impact of opioids on children;
  • Fetal alcohol syndrome;
  • Diabetes;
  • Asthma;
  • Oral health;
  • Vision care;
  • Preventive services;
  • Emergency medical services;
  • School-based health services;
  • Immunization rates;
  • Teenage pregnancy;
  • Pediatric medical research;
  • Access to care; and,
  • The social determinants of health.

Both the CHIPP Act and CARING Act would allow Congress, child advocates, health care providers, and states to work on ways to improve the health of our nation’s children rather than having to plan and contingency plan for CHIP’s possible demise, work to extend current law, and having to deal with repeated and unnecessary battles to simply extend the status quo. Over its 23-year history, CHIP has needed at least 25 different laws to either address funding shortfalls in the early years or to simply extend the program in the last 14 years, including the four different laws in 2017–2018. This has been a colossal waste of time and energy, and again, something that Congress would never impose upon the health of senior citizens, veterans, or their own health care coverage.

That should never be allowed to happen again.

There is also urgency around the issue of making CHIP permanent now. The potential crisis is caused by the fact that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) scoring of CHIP is highly dependent upon its interaction with other health programs, including the ACA, Medicaid, private insurance, and becoming uninsured.

In 2018, CBO and JCT estimated that retaining health coverage for the millions of children enrolled in CHIP is more cost effective and efficient than the alternatives for children. According to estimates by CBO and JCT:

Extending funding for CHIP for 10 years yields net savings to the federal government because the federal costs of the alternatives to providing coverage through CHIP (primarily Medicaid, subsidized coverage in the marketplaces, and employment-based insurance) are larger than the costs of providing coverage through CHIP during that period. . . The agencies estimate that enacting such legislation [to extend CHIP for 10 years] would decrease the deficit by $6.0 billion over the 2018–2027 period.

Therefore, if Congress were to act to pass the CHIPP Act or CARING Act and protect CHIP now, it would likely be “scored” to save the federal government money, which would eliminate the need for offsets. In other words, maintaining CHIP would be less expensive to the federal government than shifting children’s coverage to the alternatives of ACA, Medicaid, or private insurance.

Unfortunately, if Congress fails to act now, administrative actions or other legislation before Congress could alter the ACA and potentially change the CHIP score for the negative. Recognizing these facts, the bills by Reps. Barragán and Buchanan would simultaneously protect the health of 10 million children and lock in savings that CHIP offers in comparison to alternative coverage.

Finally, the coronavirus global pandemic has made it clear that CHIP coverage is critical and that it would be a terrible distraction if it were up for expiration at this moment in time. We need federal and state health departments to be entirely focused and attentive to the critically important task of ending the coronavirus pandemic, including addressing the unique needs of children in this crisis. However, if CHIP were up for expiration, states would have no choice but to be diverting some of their attention toward preparing and contingency planning for the possible temporary expiration or end of CHIP.

CHIP has been a bipartisan success story and deserves to be made permanent. CHIP was originally passed by a Republican House and Senate and signed into law by Democratic President Bill Clinton in 1997. The program, in tandem with Medicaid, successfully cut the uninsured rate in this country by more than 70 percent between 1997 and 2015.

Just as Medicare is dedicated to protecting the health of senior citizens, CHIP works because it is child friendly. Children and families can count on CHIP to be pediatric-focused with benefits and services that address children’s developmental needs and with networks that are pediatric-centered. Every single decision made in CHIP is made with children as the central focus. This is important because children are not little adults. Kids have unique developmental needs, which is why we have pediatricians, pediatric nurse practitioners, and children’s hospitals that specialize in their care and treatment.

This is why, in a Lake Research Partners 2020 election eve poll, a more than 3-to-1 margin of American voters (68–20 percent) strongly support making CHIP permanent.

Children deserve better than temporary or second-class consideration. Like Medicare and health care coverage that Members of Congress receive, the health care coverage of 10 million children should be protected by making CHIP permanent. Congress can do this by passing the CHIPP and CARING Act legislation.

Please call your Member of Congress and senators and ask them to MAKE CHIP PERMANENT … NOW.


WATCH: 4 working moms explain how the expanded Child Tax Credit will be a “relief” for their families

| July 15, 2021 |

Last week I had the opportunity to sit down with 4 working moms from West Virginia to talk about the new Child Tax Credit (CTC), and the impact it would have on their families.

The moms had different answers for how they plan to use the new monthly direct CTC payments, but they all agreed on the feeling the CTC gave them and their families. In one word, it’s a feeling of relief.

A relief that unless you have lived in a household that lives paycheck-to-paycheck, you may not understand. These moms all work full time, some are even working more than one job, and yet sometimes their family still has difficulty making it to the end of the month. 

Poverty is not a parenting failure—it’s a policy failure. As Amy Jo, a mom and advocate on the call, reminded us, “God didn’t create poverty. Poverty is man-made.” Yet, our country would prefer to view childhood poverty as a character flaw or bad parenting choices instead of addressing the source of the problem.

Child poverty is persistently high in the United States—children have a 54% higher chance of living in poverty than adults do. It’s also the underlying cause for so many other issues that children face. Poverty impacts children’s health, housing, education, and so much more. 

The improved Child Tax Credit is an opportunity to right this wrong. The CTC won’t solve all of the issues listed above, but it will go a long way in the daily lives of families. 

The expanded Child Tax Credit impacts over 90% of families in the United States. The provisions in the American Rescue Plan expand the value of the credit from $2000 to $3,600 for children under 6 and $3,000 for children through age 17. It also allows for the credit to be paid out in monthly installments instead of one-time during tax season. Finally, for the first time, this credit will be fully refundable, meaning the families who will benefit the most from this credit will be able to receive the full amount.

Opponents to the CTC are pushing two false messages around the expansion. 1) The money will be misused and not benefit children and 2) CTC payments will encourage people not to work.

The moms I spoke with shared how they intend to use the money from their increased credit, and it’s very clear that the CTC won’t be used as ‘fun money.’

The number one answer? Groceries.

Beyond groceries, daycare, new clothes, household bills, and back-to-school supplies were all mentioned.

Additionally, First Focus’ Senior Vice President of Budget and Tax, Michelle Dallafior, would point out that this monitoring of how people choose to spend their tax return is something that we don’t discuss for higher tax brackets, so why is there this expectation for lower-income families to have to justify how they spend their Child Tax Credit?

To the second point about the tax credit encouraging people not to work, I was met with a uniform eye roll and sigh from all of the moms, before I could even get the words out. This is an argument that people living in poverty have heard time and time again. It is also not true.

This narrative shows our large misunderstanding of what poverty is. 

As one of the moms, Stormy, put it “I’m looking forward to something like this. It doesn’t mean that I don’t want to work. It just means that it’s going to help me get by a little bit.”

The Child Tax Credit presents an opportunity to create real change for children and families. Along with other elements of the American Rescue Plan, the CTC has the ability to cut child poverty nearly in half this year. The question now is, will we continue this progress?

The American Rescue Plan only expands the CTC for the 2021 tax year. If Congress doesn’t support making the CTC expansion permanent, and commit to continuing to cut child poverty, we are at risk of losing any improvements made for children and families this year. Be a part of the change and commit to ending child poverty. Sign the First Focus Campaign for Children letter calling for CTC permanency below: https://action.campaignforchildren.org/CTC


Administration’s approach to gender-based violence needs to consider children

| July 9, 2021 |

President Biden recently announced the United States’ commitments to the Generation Equality Forum, a global initiative to achieve equality and opportunity for women and girls around the world. In his announcement, the President stated that preventing and responding to all forms of gender-based violence would be both domestic and global priorities, alongside strengthening women’s economic security and protecting sexual and reproductive rights. Specifically, the White House pledged to create a U.S. National Action Plan on Gender-Based Violence, fund efforts to prevent and respond to sexual violence at home and around the world, and sponsor working groups and international resolutions to end violence against children.

These commitments could not be more timely. As the President’s announcement acknowledged, gender-based violence is a “shadow pandemic” that greatly increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. As countries issued stay-at-home orders and children were forced to stay home from school, women and girls faced increased physical and sexual violence. Even worse, these cases of violence were underreported. Children have been forced into child labor or child marriage due to the economic downturn during the pandemic, exposing them to further exploitation.

Sexual and gender-based violence against women was a crisis before the pandemic, and its harmful impact on children is staggering. Worldwide, of adolescent girls who are 15-19 and in a relationship, almost one in four has experienced physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner. Millions of girls have been forced to perform sexual acts, but available data shows only 1% of those girls report their abuse or reach out for help. In 2019, one in five women between the ages of 20 and 24 were married before the age of 18. In our region of the Americas, gender-based violence is a main driver of children’s forced migration to the United States. And while girls are disproportionately survivors of this violence, boys also experience violence and sometimes with fewer protections. A study of child rape laws in 40 countries found almost half of the laws lack protections for boys who survive sexual violence, and few services for survivors are geared towards boys. In the United States, the numbers are similarly staggering, as one-in-nine girls and one-in-53 boys under 18 experience sexual violence at the hands of an adult.

This violence can have lifelong impacts on children and by extension their families, communities, and countries. Exposure to violence at an early age leads to toxic stress, which can wear and tear on a child’s physical, mental and emotional health. Without comprehensive support, children may have difficulty continuing their education or maintaining employment, which could lead to further marginalization and exploitation into adulthood. But by taking comprehensive steps to prevent and respond to sexual violence against children, our government can preserve the health and safety of millions of children around the world, for both their present and their future.

So while we applaud the President for his comprehensive approach to gender-based violence and the needs of women and girls at home and abroad, we also call on him to take a comprehensive approach to children as well. For years, we have argued that our government’s siloed approach to issues that impact children—which, by the way, is every issue—harms children’s health and well-being. Last year, when we analyzed the foreign assistance budget for the first time, we found that the U.S. government’s response to the needs of children and youth globally is fragmented. But as the statistics on violence against children show, there are links between economic opportunity, social supports, justice systems, and the occurrence of violence. We cannot address violence against children while we remain in our silos.

Alongside a National Plan on Gender-Based Violence and a Gender Policy Council, we should have a White House Office on Children and a National Children’s Agenda. Alongside investments in economic security and women’s rights, we should increase children’s share of our federal budget domestically and globally. Alongside formal legislation and policies that advance women’s rights, we should have a national best interest of the child standard for all policies and formally evaluate every policy’s impact on children. Congress should pass legislation to create an independent Children’s Commissioner, who can take formal complaints from children who experience violence, evaluate both legislative and executive efforts to protect children from violence, and speak to children themselves about what they need to be safe and healthy.

In the past six months, the President has been strong and bold in his policy, domestically investing in children and youth over the long-term with the American Rescue Plan, the American Jobs Plan, and the American Families Plan, and globally with funding for the global fight against COVID-19. We urge President Biden to be just as bold for children, especially children who have survived unspeakable harms in the form of sexual violence. With the right policies and structures in place, we can do right by them.    


A Children’s Agenda 2021: Their Moment is Now

| June 28, 2021 |

It’s time to restore American leadership, and a place to start is by investing in our nation’s future: our children.

This means investing in their education and growth, protecting their health and safety, protecting them from economic hardship, poverty, and hunger, and helping them develop their God-given potential.

To achieve these goals, our nation’s leadership should ensure that the best interests of children govern all policies that impact children and youth. In a 2020 election eve poll by Lake Research Partners, American voters agree by an overwhelming 81–13 percent margin.

This week is Children’s Week (June 13–19) in the United States and child advocates across the country are raising attention to key policy issues facing America’s children and youth in Congress.

Whether the issue is health care, poverty, nutrition, safety, immigration, housing, immigration, the environment, infrastructure, technology, foreign assistance, or the global COVID pandemic, these policy areas of importance to children and youth. As part of Children’s Week, First Focus Campaign for Children has put together a Children’s Agenda for the 117th Congress: Every Issue is a Children’s Issue, which urges policymakers to support and champion the comprehensive list of policy concerns of importance to children and youth.

Children advocates are working together to raise attention to the full array of issues of importance to our nation’s children and how they interact with one another to impact child well-being. As an example, reducing child poverty in America will reduce child abuse and neglect, hunger, and homelessness and improve child health and educational outcomes.

Children need adults to understand that every issue is a kids’ issue. Furthermore, they need their concerns and voices heard, listened to, and acted upon rather than ignored or dismissed. When we fail to lean in and listen to our kids, we fail them.

As examples, in every major child abuse scandal over the past several decades, including those related to the Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts, the U.S. women’s Olympic gymnastics team, Penn State’s Jerry Sandusky, the U.S. Olympic water polo team, etc., adults were told repeatedly about the abuse that children were being subjected to. Despite the numerous pleas for help by children, adults either dismissed, ignored, or actively attempted to cover up the abuse rather than protect our kids.

USA Olympic gymnastics medalist Ali Raisman wrote in the New York Times:

Abuse goes way beyond the moment, often haunting survivors for the rest of their lives, making it difficult to trust and impacting their relationships. . . If over these many years, just one adult listened and had the courage and character to act, this tragedy could have been avoided.

The fact is that violence, abuse, injustice, and discrimination against children in families, schools, prisons, and institutions can best be eliminated if children are enabled and encouraged to tell their stories and be heard by people with the authority to take action and protect them. Far too often, institutions have repeatedly failed children (e.g., from the scandals involving child and sexual abuse by public, private, nonprofit, and religious institutions noted above to the policies of family separation and the caging of children by the federal government in the last Administration). Rather than putting the protection and well-being of children first, institutions often tragically choose to silence the voices of children in order to cover up the abuse and protect the abusers.

Policymakers also fail children through inaction, ignorance, ideological purity, caving to special interests, failing to recognize that children have fundamental human rights too, or even just abject cruelty.

Fortunately, there are positive models and champions for children. As Derek Black, author of School House Burning: Public Education and the Assault on American Democracy points out, our nation’s founding fathers called for the creation of a strong public education system in this country to protect our democracy and to fulfill our nation’s promise to future generations.

Black quotes President John Adams making the case that the “education of ‘every rank and class of people, down to the lowest and the poorest’ had ‘to be the care of the public’ and ‘maintained at the public expense.’ Its importance required that ‘no expense. . .would be too extravagant.’”

In a Special Message to Congress in 1909, President Teddy Roosevelt called for the creation of a Children’s Bureau to:

…investigate and report upon all matters pertaining to the welfare of children and child life, and shall especially investigate the questions of infant mortality, the birth rate, physical degeneracy, orphanage, juvenile delinquency and juvenile courts, desertion and illegitimacy, dangerous occupations, accidents and diseases of children of the working classes, employment…, and such other facts as have a bearing upon the health, efficiency, character, and training of children.

During the Great Depression, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt reaffirmed a focus on children. In 1935, he called for the creation of the New Deal, and in it, fully recognize that every issue is a children’s issue, and he called for significant investments in children. FDR said:

It must not for a moment be forgotten that the core of any social plan must be the child. Every proposition we make must adhere to this core. . . [W]e cannot too strongly recommend that the Federal Government again recognize its obligation to participate in a Nation-wide program saving the children from the forces of attrition and decay which the depression turned upon them above all others.

Unfortunately, the needs and best interests of children are not often at the forefront of presidential attention and congressional action. Since children cannot vote, cannot employ lobbyists, do not run a Political Action Committee (PAC), and are denied the right to vote, children are often treated as an afterthought in the halls of the White House and Congress.

Despite having some terrific champions and defenders in Congress in recent years, inattention and inaction is — far too often — the norm. The federal budget committed a record low 7.48 percent of the federal budget to children.

Even worse, in 2019 and 2020, the First Focus Campaign for Children’s Legislation Scorecard could not identify a single major vote in the United States Senate that would improve the lives of children. Fatherly’s Lizzy Francis reported:

The inaction is astounding. In the meantime, kids will be harmed.

Children Need Positive Action…Now

As Nobel Prize-winning poet Gabriela Mistral once said:

Many things we need can wait. The child cannot. Now is the time his or her bones are formed, his or her mind developed. To them, we cannot say tomorrow, their name is today.

Just over a month from now, Americans will be cheering on our Olympic champions and proudly chant “U-S-A!” and wave our flags, as our athletes demonstrate excellence on Tokyo’s courts, fields, mats, tracks, and pools. The United States is, once again, favored to take the most Olympic medals this summer.

We are proud of our young Olympic athletes and the excellence they have achieved — often despite incredible challenges and adversity in their lives and personal stories.

Let’s ensure that we do what it takes to help all our young people overcome such challenges and adversity.

Fortunately, a “window of opportunity” has opened to allow us the ability to improve and expand the Child Tax Credit and provide greater support to the families of over 65 million children in this country. As estimated by the Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University, President Biden’s proposed American Families Plan would cut child poverty by 47.4 percent relative to the projected poverty rates for 2022 if the American Families Plan were not enacted.

We must not let this moment pass without action. The kids are not alright. Every aspect of the lives of children were negatively impacted by the global COVID-19 pandemic and economic recession.

First, parents, teachers, pediatricians, child advocates, and youth must educate policymakers to understand that children have significant and unique needs and concerns that require child-focused solutions. There’s a reason we have pediatricians and early childhood teachers. Kids are not just little adults. They have distinct needs, which require care from professionals who understand the needs of growing children.

Second, parents, teachers, pediatricians, child advocates, and youth must demand that policymakers take action to help improve the lives and well-being of children. America should stand at the top of the list of industrialized nations in the health, education, and safety of its children — not at the bottom.

Unfortunately, even before the pandemic and recession, the kids were not doing well. In a report by UNICEF, our nation was well behind other wealthy nations on dozens of child well-being measures, including child poverty and child mortality. In that international comparison, the United States ranked just 36th out of 38 countries — behind counties like Romania, Estonia, Slovakia, Latvia, Greece, Poland, Lithuania, and Malta.

If our Olympic athletes can dominate the world on the medal stands, we can certainly do better than 36th in the world for the rest of our young people.

We must demand that no child in this country should ever go without health care or food. It’s well past time for us to dramatically reduce child poverty, make the tax system fair for children and families, improve our nation’s schools, expand high-quality child care opportunities, and help families avoid having their homes foreclosed and reverse the growing homelessness crisis.

We can make great strides in improving the lives of children in this manner if we insist that Congress pass the American Families Plan. If you are in supporting the call for improvements to the tax credits that benefit children and families, we urge you to join a sign-on letter to Congress pushing for its passage.

In addition, we urge parents, pediatricians, teachers, and child advocates to consider joining a growing movement of volunteers to be an “Ambassador for Children” and be a voice and advocate for children.

For our kids, their name is today and their time is now.


Watch: Child Care: It’s (not just) a Kids Issue | #ChildrensWeek2021

| June 16, 2021 |

Child care and early learning offer critical developmental support to children, experts told a Children’s Week audience Wednesday, but they also provide vital infrastructure to the larger U.S. economy.

“To think about child care as infrastructure, really should not be that big of a leap when you see what we have just been through,” said Myra Jones-Taylor, chief policy officer at ZERO TO THREE. “It is very clear from the number of parents, and women in particular…who had to leave the workforce in the midst of the pandemic because they did not have child care. That is the equivalent of saying they did not have a road or a bridge to get to work, they did not have the transportation to get to work. If they do not have child care, they cannot get to work. We cannot leave our children unattended.”

Jones-Taylor joined Century Foundation senior fellow Julie Kashen in a panel moderated by First Focus on Children’s Averi Pakulis to discuss the potential impact of the Biden-Harris Administration’s plan to invest more than $400 billion in child care and universal pre-K.

Panelists discussed the role of the COVID-19 pandemic in focusing attention on the importance of child care, and how and to whom new funding should be delivered.

We have this history of not paying what these [child care] jobs are worth. The American Families Plan would do what’s needed,” Julie Kashen explained. “It would raise wages, it would make sure people are being paid much better than they currently are, and make sure there is access to professional development opportunities.” 

First Focus on Children’s fourth annual Children’s Week takes place as children factor into our national dialogue for the first time in decades. With kids as the subject of several proposals from Congress and the Biden-Harris Administration, First Focus took the opportunity to remind our country’s leaders that every issue — from immigration to taxes to health care — is a kids issue.

To see all Children’s Week events, spanning June 13 to June 19, visit this link.


WATCH: Immigration: It’s a Kids Issue | #ChildrensWeek2021

| June 15, 2021 |

Advocates and experts today turned a spotlight on children of immigrants and children who are themselves immigrants, and why they need Congress to create a path to citizenship.

“The American people believe that all federal policy should be based on a “best interest of the child” standard, and it’s really critical that immigration not be an exception,” said Miriam Abaya, First Focus on Children’s Senior Director of Immigration during the second day of Children’s Week 2021.

Panel participant Wendy Cervantes, Director of Immigration and Immigrant Families at the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) briefed viewers on who these children are, how programs like Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) protect them, and on bills before Congress, such as the American Dream and Promise Act (H.R.6), that would deliver meaningful benefits to them.

Farmworker youth and families, many of whom are immigrants, also face obstacles to their health and development. Norma Flores Lopez, Chief Programs Officer at Justice for Migrant Women, discussed the role of these children and families in our economy as essential workers and the tremendous impact the pandemic has had on them. She notes the importance of passing the Farm Workforce Modernization Act (H.R. 1603), which creates a path to citizenship for agricultural workers, more than half of whom have children in the United States.

The panelists focused on how a clearly defined path to citizenship for these groups would improve children’s lives and nurture their development.

To see all Children’s Week events, spanning June 13 to June 19, visit this link.

Fast Facts about children and immigration: 


WATCH: The American Families Plan: What does it mean for kids? | #ChildrensWeek2021

| June 14, 2021 |

Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona today urged viewers during the first event of Children’s Week 2021 to “be a voice for children” by writing a letter or using social media to push on the issues that are important for kids.

“As an educator my whole life, I know the importance of looking at children holistically when we make decisions,” Cardona said in recorded remarks. “We need to be thinking about our children in every policy decision we make.”

First Focus on Children’s fourth annual Children’s Week takes place as children factor into our national dialogue for the first time in decades. With kids as the subject of several proposals from Congress and the Biden-Harris Administration, Children’s Week will focus on the biggest issues of the day — from taxes and immigration to foreign policy and educational equity — and how each impacts kids and families. Because — no matter the issue — #ItsAKidsIssue.

Cardona and a panel of advocates and academics highlighted the historic investments in children proposed by the Administration’s American Families Plan during the kick-off event, titled “The American Families Plan: What’s it mean for kids?”

Among its many proposals, the American Families Plan offers groundbreaking investments in child care and early learning, creates paid family and medical leave, and expands child-related tax credits that have the potential to cut child poverty in half. It builds on the success of the American Rescue Plan, passed in March, which will cut child poverty in half in 2021.

“I’m not so sure people look to the tax code immediately when they think of children,” said Michelle Dallafior, First Focus Senior Vice President for Budget and Tax. “But we’re making incredibly important changes to the tax code that will benefit children…The [child tax credit] is one of the most significant federal investments we make in children annually. And the improvements passed in the American Rescue Plan and recommended for extension in the American Families Plan are the largest contributor in the plan’s historic reduction in poverty.”

But panelists also signaled that implementation — that is, actually getting the legislation passed by Congress — is key.

“If no other action is taken, poverty rates in 2022 could shoot right back up to where they had been before the pandemic hit,” said Megan Curran, Policy Director at Columbia University’s Center on Poverty and Social Policy. “Which means all this hard-fought progress would be lost.”

More than 10 million U.S. children were living in poverty before the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition to expanding and increasing the amount of the child tax credit, the Administration’s plan would deliver the money to families on a monthly basis, rather than at the end of the year. This monthly payment could be life-changing for many low and no-income families.

“I’ve had mothers tell me they’re very excited about this because it means they can buy enough laundry detergent, they can maybe buy a washer and dryer for their own home, they can afford the extra expenses of car insurance or maybe getting a vehicle on the road because of new tires and they can actually pass the West Virginia vehicle inspection,” said Amy Jo Hutchison, an economic justice advocate from West Virginia. “I know a mother who’s looking forward to possibly the opportunity of moving her kids out of the projects for the first time in their lives with the extra $250 a month.”

Calling the proposals for child care and early learning “a bold, substantial and sustainable investment,” Lucy Recio, Senior Analyst of Public Policy at National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) said the American Families Plan also addresses the structural issues that hinder child care, such as investing in child care workers, who generally make “poverty-level wages.” The American Families Plan offers a historic $425 billion simultaneous investment in child care and pre-K, which is designed to increase equity.

To see all Children’s Week events, spanning June 13 to June 19, visit this link.


6 of the Biden Budget’s best kid proposals

| June 4, 2021 |

President Biden’s FY 2022 budget proposes historic investments in our nation’s children. Many of these mirror proposals outlined in his American Families Plan and American Jobs Plan, which have the potential to dramatically improve the immediate and long-term well-being of millions of children, especially children of color and those in lower- and middle-income families.

First Focus on Children’s sole mission is to make children a priority in federal budget and policy decisions. We have called on the Administration through our 80-member Children’s Budget Coalition to commit at least an additional percentage point of federal spending for children in the months and years ahead and to reverse the downward trend in investing in children. Further analysis is underway to determine whether the President’s budget hits these marks.

In the meantime, here are 6 of the budget’s best investments in children:

  1. Tax Credits: Extends or makes permanent improvements to tax credit programs benefitting children and youth to reduce child poverty significantly, aid former foster and homeless youth, and address racial and income inequities in the tax code. Improvements to the Child Tax Credit alone will benefit an estimated 66 million children — or more than 90% of all U.S. children.
  2. Child Care and Early Learning: Increases key child care funding to provide direct support that will ensure low- and middle-income families spend no more than 7% of their income on child care and that care is provided by a well-trained and well-compensated child care workforce; invests $200 billion for universal pre-K for all 3- and 4-year-olds.
  3. Education: Increases funding for community schools to $443 million — more than ten times FY 2021 levels; aids millions of low-income students by more than doubling Title I assistance to $36 billion; offers two years of free community college for all Americans (including DACA recipients); increases Pell Grants and other opportunities. The budget also proposes a nearly 17% increase in funding for Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) grants that support more than 7.6 million pre-school through Grade 12 students.
  4. Immigration: More than doubles funding for the Office of Refugee Resettlement to $4.4 billion, with $3.2 billion — more than 70% — going to support current care of unaccompanied children and expand placements and services for unaccompanied children according to child welfare best practices. Disappointment: Continues family detention for 2,500 families, despite the documented harm it inflicts on children.
  5. Health: Invests $150 million – 50 times more than previously — in a Centers for Disease Control program to advance efforts around racial inequity in health and the social determinants of health, which disproportionately affect people of color, including children; makes significant funding increases in mental health care for children, whose mental health issues have skyrocketed during the pandemic; provides robust funding for maternal health to combat high rates of maternal mortality and morbidity.
  6. Hunger: Makes Summer Electronic Benefits Program permanent, which will help feed 30 million children during the summer months; expands free school meals to reach an additional 9 million children.