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All you need to know about child poverty in one simple chart

| September 16, 2021 |

On Tuesday, U.S. Census Bureau released their annual report on income, earnings, income inequality, and poverty in the United States, and, as usual, it paints a very grim picture for our nation’s children. Specifically, it is a grim picture because, once again, children represent the age group with the highest rate of poverty in the wealthiest nation in the world. 

But, if you were looking for good news, just take a look at the chart below — or even just the right side of that chart — and you’ll see all you need to know about child poverty in America. 

During a global pandemic and economic crisis — the number of children living in poverty actually went down.

How can that be?

To put it simply, Congress stepped up and invested in things that help children. This included two rounds of stimulus payments and an increase in emergency unemployment benefits and food assistance that helped keep kids housed, fed, safe, and healthy when the world around them was chaotic.

If we hadn’t done this — the results would have been disastrous. The dotted line in the chart shows us this. With this benefit, 3.3 million fewer children were living below the poverty line in 2020.

Poverty — particularly child poverty — is complicated. The latest census report is nearly 100 pages and that doesn’t even include all of their data. Child poverty is not something that we can snap our fingers and eradicate tomorrow — but the good news is, and the chart shows this — we know what works to put us on that path. Two years ago, a landmark study from the National Academy of Sciences gave us the playbook — and Congress has started to come around to this reality. First, during a moment of crisis lawmakers passed stimulus payments and invested in programs like the Child Tax Credit — and, now that we have data that proves their outsized impact, Congress has an opportunity to make these common-sense expansions permanent.

Imagine what this chart could look like after a full year of monthly expanded child tax credit payments like we’ll have in 2021 — an investment that Congress made this year and that is not included in this chart. That investment has the potential of cutting child poverty in half — but is only authorized through the end of this year.

Imagine if that didn’t expire. Imagine if we kept investing in kids the way we have recently.

Imagine if we could simply wipe away that dotted line.

Congress has that opportunity right now, all they have to do is follow the numbers and one simple chart.

70 Child Advocacy Organizations Call on Texas Governor to Protect Migrant Children

| August 30, 2021 |

As child advocacy organizations, our north star is the safety and well-being of children. We believe that every child should be cared for in a way that preserves their health, safety, and dignity — no matter who they are or where they come from. And when lawmakers promote policies that threaten to harm children, we will speak up.

This is why we penned a letter — with 70 organizations, 24 from Texas — to Texas Governor Greg Abbott asking him to withdraw his May 31 executive order that would remove licenses from children’s shelters that serve unaccompanied children.

When unaccompanied children arrive at our border, it’s because the homes they fled are impoverished or unsafe. Our country’s laws and stated values dictate that these children be cared for just like any other child who is separated from family — in small, state-licensed settings — while our government facilitates their reunification with family and adjustment to their new life. State licensing is an important part of that care. Licensing ensures that children are cared for in safe environments, by the right professionals, and with access to services that support their health and well-being.

Texas has approximately half of the federal government’s licensed placements for unaccompanied children. Gov. Abbott’s order threatens to disrupt children’s care, put children in harm’s way, and deny children the care any child — in any state — should have. Furthermore, the state’s interim regulation to exempt shelters that serve unaccompanied children from licensing removes these facilities from state monitoring and oversight, which is important for reinforcing children’s proper care.

We all know that protecting children and the people who care for them is a deeply held value in Texas and the nation. The Governor’s order goes against those values. Instead of doing more to address the trauma that these children have experienced, his order undermines the very systems that we have put in place to care for them. Harm to children should never be tolerated and our organizations will always speak up for any child in harm’s way.

Patrick Bresette is Texas Executive Director for the Children’s Defense Fund. Miriam Abaya is the Senior Director for Immigration and Children’s Rights at First Focus on Children.

What’s next for the largest unvaxxed population (kids)?

| August 25, 2021 |

Like many of you, we have been watching in dismay as children’s health is politicized by adults. Just as kids begin to head back to school, increasing numbers of them are contracting COVID-19 and being hospitalized, and they need more protection than ever

We have called on the Biden Administration to create a plan tailored to children that will ensure an equitable distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine when they become eligible, and in the meantime, we call on all players (parents, school leaders, and public health officials) to keep children as safe as possible.

Children are the largest unvaccinated population in the country right now. Many of them go to schools in old buildings with outdated ventilation systems. Others will be in classrooms that simply don’t make social distancing possible. Some live in states that are attempting to prevent them from wearing masks. All of these things make them incredibly vulnerable. But, adults can take steps to mitigate their harm — and it’s on all of us to ensure they do.

What have we called for and why?

Back in April, we called for the federal government to roll out a vaccination plan uniquely tailored to children and their specific needs. We recognized that vaccines would not be readily available for all kids for some time, but the preparation necessary to protect children from this once-in-a-lifetime pandemic could absolutely begin immediately. We called for plans to address massive racial inequities in vaccine distribution, for a public education campaign that took advantage of trusted community voices, and a distribution plan that met kids and families where they were.

Last week, we thanked the Biden administration for the work they’ve done to date to promote youth vaccination, and suggested additional ways for them to prepare for when more kids are eligible for vaccines and to reach families who may need more information before their child is vaccinated. This should include using all available federal resources and existing programs for sharing information and reaching families, holding listening sessions for caregivers to learn about their concerns and effective ways to address them, and have an explicit goal of eliminating racial and other disparities in children’s vaccinations. All of this work adds up to protecting children and promoting equity in their health, which are goals we should all have. 

What does President Biden’s recent memo to the Secretary of Education mean for kids?

On August 18th, President Biden released the “Memorandum on Ensuring a Safe Return to In-Person School for the Nation’s Children” — which directed Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona “to assess all available tools” to ensure that students can return to school this fall “without compromising their health or the health of their families or communities” and that Governors are “not standing in the way of local leaders” who are “taking all appropriate steps to prepare for a safe return to school.”

Here, President Biden offers his most-firm-to-date stance, directing Secretary Cardona to ensure that local leaders are doing everything in their power to — as First Focus President Bruce Lesley recently advocated — “implement the array of public health measures to protect children from COVID and keep schools from having to resort to lockdowns and quarantines, which everybody should agree is something we should avoid as best as possible.”

This memo also makes clear that cost is not an issue. When it comes to the safety and health of children at school, the administration will use the Federal Emergency Management Agency to “reimburse States, including their school districts, at 100 percent Federal cost share to support the safe reopening and operation of school facilities and to effectively maintain the health and safety of students, educators, and staff.” Schools, as well as local education agencies, local governments, and states — must do everything within their power to ensure the health of students as they return to school.

Can kids get vaccinated?

The current state of play for kids and the COVID-19 vaccine is mixed. Teenagers and adults ages 16 and over are eligible for the now fully-approved Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Children ages 12 to15 are eligible for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine under the FDA’s Emergency Use Authorization (EUA). People ages 18 and over are eligible for the Moderna vaccine, and Moderna has applied for approval of its vaccine in children ages 12-17. And both companies are running pediatric clinical trials now to test their vaccines on children under the age of 12.

The bottom line is that currently, children under the age of 12 are not eligible for a vaccine, and that leaves adult vaccination as one of our best available tools to protect children and their health.

What’s next?

Of course, it’s not a simple situation. The virus is evolving and so is the playbook for how to deal with it. But, that doesn’t mean we just throw our hands up and pretend it isn’t there. The only simple solution we have is to implore local, state, and federal leaders to all ask one key question when developing policies that affect our kids — is this in the best interest of children? If you’re against masks — what are you doing instead to keep kids safe? If you’re demanding that schools reopen fully — what have you done to ensure the school is safe for all kids? If you’re unsure about the vaccine — what are you doing to get trusted information about it to increase your knowledge?

Our kids are watching us. They are depending on us. Let’s make sure we don’t let them down.

Including Youth Voices in Our Democracy

| August 24, 2021 |

Photo by Allison Shelley for EDUimages

With the number of COVID-19 cases rising again, children in the US are facing the potential of a third straight school year being disrupted by the pandemic. Yet as policymakers and school administrators make decisions about reopening protocols, an essential group has been largely left out of the conversation: young people.

The U.S. prides itself on being a beacon of democracy. But 73 million constituents have little to no voice in our democracy. Politicians consistently overlook and marginalize individuals under 18 years old. Over the past year, policymakers have spent more time talking about and prioritizing reopening restaurants and bars than addressing the housing insecurity, educational disruptions, and mental health consequences of the pandemic that millions of children have experienced.

These are big issues to confront, requiring complex solutions. What is baffling is that in many areas, decision-makers are attempting to address school issues—or any issues affecting children—without ever talking to young people. Young people are not just part of some elusive future; they are ready to contribute to their communities now.

The government, at every level, must become more accessible to and inclusive of youth, especially those from historically underrepresented groups. Youth engagement will introduce new perspectives on current issues and help inspire solutions to persistent problems. As the new school year is beginning, education is an obvious starting place for including young people’s voices.

Schools can start by surveying young people about challenges they face and any ideas they have for ensuring all students succeed. To be clear, listening to children should not replace communications with, and input from, parents and other caregivers—parents and caregivers are essential partners. But young people have insights that adults don’t, just as adults have perspectives that young people don’t. There is absolutely no downside to hearing from young people, unless we’re afraid of what they’ll tell us.

So, survey all students. Young people’s tech-savvy makes this easier than you might think. Better yet, schools should involve young people in the design of the survey, so they ensure that they ask the right questions and not just questions that serve adults’ interests. Then schools need to set up a process for ensuring ongoing dialogue with young people—all students, not just those they find easy to work with. 

A partnership with young people cannot be limited just to individual schools. School district leaders can do better as well. School boards and superintendents should hold their meetings at accessible times so students do not have to miss class to ensure their voices are heard. They also should allocate a designated portion of public comment times to youth.

Other agencies with mandates that affect children—from health care to transportation, to urban development — should follow suit. Just imagine, for example, what policymakers might learn if they heard from young people about their transportation needs. They would learn that many youth need better transportation systems not just to attend school but also to travel to work so they can help their families economically.

It’s not enough, however, just to open the doors to young people. Governments need to enhance efforts to teach young people how to effectively engage with agencies and make their voices heard. Schools are central to this, but every government agency can provide interactive guidance to young people so they can learn to present their ideas more effectively. Not only will this ensure agencies hear all good ideas, but civic engagement can lead to improved academic performance and enhanced social-emotional wellbeing for students.

Finally, we have to go beyond making existing spaces more open to youth. We need to create more avenues for young people to engage, from direct representation through local youth commissions to statewide ombudsperson offices for children. These exist in some places, but they need to be in all cities and states. At the federal level, young people have already urged President Biden to create an executive “Office of Young Americans” and appoint a “Director of Youth Engagement” who would sit on the Domestic Policy Council.

Partnering with young people will not only help confront pressing issues in schools and other settings, it will also help longer term by teaching young people the skills needed for effective participation in a democratic society, which ironically adults expect them to have the moment they turn 18.

There is no shortage of ways to involve young people. Doing so will help build a stronger democracy. Equally important, young people deserve to have a voice and feel valued in the community they grow up in and will live in for years to come.

The starting point is simple: We need to see — and treat — young people as genuine partners.

Jonathan Todres is a Distinguished University Professor and Professor of Law at Georgia State University in Atlanta. Adrianna Zhang is the Founder and Executive Director of SF CHANGE and a high school senior in San Francisco.

TANF turns 25: let’s maximize its reach to children in need

| August 17, 2021 |

This week marks the 25th anniversary of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, which before the recent expansion of the Child Tax Credit (CTC) in the American Rescue Plan, was the only federal program that provides cash assistance to families with very low incomes. The majority of TANF recipients – 72% – are children, and in 2019 the program lifted 160,000 children above the federal poverty line.

Despite the critical cash assistance and other support that TANF provides to millions of children, it fails to reach many kids in need. Just 23% of all poor families who are eligible for cash assistance receive it. Due to its racist design intended to limit assistance to Black mothers and children, states with larger percentages of Black residents offer lower levels of cash assistance, contributing to Black children experiencing disproportionately high rates of poverty compared to white children. As a fixed block grant that is not indexed to inflation, TANF is not effective at adjusting to meet increased need during times of economic crisis, and its value has fallen significantly over time.

Rather than providing cash assistance, a significant amount of TANF dollars are used for “non-core” services and programs that have been historically funded by the state, such as child welfare services, pre-kindergarten programs, state Earned Income Tax Credits, and more. These funds often supplant state dollars for these supports, rather than providing additional assistance to families with children, and in more egregious examples, states have used funds to serve upper-middle-class families and even fraudulently diverted funds to benefit wealthy individuals.

A 2019 landmark study from the National Academy of Sciences confirmed that cash assistance reduces child poverty and improves children’s long-term health, educational, and economic outcomes, both by increasing access to resources that support children’s healthy development as well as reducing household stress, giving parents and caregivers more mental and emotional bandwidth for their children. Cash assistance has a two-generation effect in promoting economic mobility: In addition to supporting children, the assistance helps adults in the household afford child care, transportation to work, higher education, or job training programs that lead to steady employment and higher-paying jobs.

Enhancements to the Child Tax Credit (CTC) in the American Rescue Plan mean some households with children with little or no income are accessing significant cash assistance for the first time, receiving payments of up to $3,000 per child ($3,600 for children under 6) in 2021. These CTC improvements, along with other assistance in the American Rescue Plan, have the potential to cut our national child poverty rate in half in 2021. While this progress is certainly cause for celebration, these CTC improvements will expire at the end of 2021 unless Congress takes further action. First Focus Campaign for Children is strongly urging Congress to make these CTC improvements permanent as well as take additional steps to help the millions of children and families who still cannot access the CTC because they are not eligible or they face barriers to accessing payments.

We also must do more to support the children in families who face the toughest barriers to economic stability and as a result, will continue to experience poverty without more help. This is where TANF comes in – with significant structural reform, it can reach more children with the greatest need, more effectively promote household social mobility, and reduce, rather than perpetuate, racial economic disparities. Earlier this year, First Focus Campaign for Children released our Children’s Agenda for the 117th Congress, which includes our priorities for TANF reform:

  • Adding child poverty reduction as the overarching goal of TANF.
  • Requiring states to report on how TANF spending impacted their state child poverty rate.
  • Mandating that states spend a significant amount of TANF funds on basic cash assistance for families with children with very low incomes.
  • Increasing program funding, indexing funds to inflation, and allocating additional funds to states with high rates of child poverty.
  • Improving the program’s ability to respond during times of increased need by eliminating its block grant structure.
  • Eliminating work requirements for assistance and instead funding trained providers to help parents and caregivers pursue higher education or skills training by guaranteeing child care assistance, transportation assistance, and other supports.
  • Using funds to prevent children from entering foster care and to support relatives who take care of children when their parents are unable.
  • Getting rid of family caps, asset tests, family sanctions, arbitrary work requirements, and other policies that either block or reduce benefits to families with children and deepen racial economic disparities.
  • Requiring that all states pass through all child support collected on behalf of households receiving TANF, rather than reimbursing themselves, and disregard any income received through child support for the purposes of TANF eligibility.

The creation of a child poverty reduction target — as proposed in the Child Poverty Reduction Act (S. 643/H.R. 1558) — could help achieve these reforms and others, and could help create an income support infrastructure that ensures every child gets the support they need to not just survive, but thrive.

Children Need Adults to Act Responsibly and in Their Best Interests

| August 12, 2021 |

Our children are not alright. The pandemic and economic recession have affected every aspect of children’s lives. They need our full attention and protection more than ever. Children desperately need to be in school for their education, mental health, overall well-being, and to see their friends, but that needs to be done safely.

Unfortunately, from the very beginning of the global pandemic and economic recession, children and their families had to overcome the myth that children were “almost immune” and largely unaffected by COVID-19. Such claims have always been wrong.

Again, we know that every aspect of the lives of children has been negatively impacted by the COVID pandemic and economic recessionincluding the health of kids.

The lives and well-being of children have been disrupted in numerous ways, including the closure of schools and child care centers, rising pediatric mental health-related emergency room visits, increasing rates of child poverty, child hunger, and child homelessness, and deaths to an estimated 1.5 million caregivers of children across the world.

Earlier this year, Congress passed and President Joe Biden signed into law the American Rescue Plan Act, which addressed some of the problems facing kids on a temporary one-year basis.

For example, the Child Tax Credit was improved to make the credits fully refundable (thereby cutting child poverty by nearly 50 percent) and increased the amount of the credits to families to $3,600 per child that is 6 years of age and under and to $3,000 for each child 6–18 years of age.

As part of the President’s American Family Plan, Congress and the President are working on preventing these Child Tax Credit improvements from expiring and having child poverty double. The bill also addresses other important issues like early childhood, child care, family medical leave, child hunger, etc.

These improvements are all critically important for children.

However, the growing threat of COVID-19 to the health of children is an urgent problem that needs greater attention and focused policy solutions.

The myth that “kids are fine” continues to be hard to shake, but kids are contracting COVID-19 and being hospitalized, and dying at higher rates.

For children, there are also the longer-term consequences of long-haul COVID-19 and MIS-C, which is a delayed heart inflammation or toxic shock response to the virus in some kids.

If children are going to return to school safely, educators and public health officials need to be able to take measures they deem necessary to best protect both teachers and the children they are entrusted to educate and protect. Doing nothing is not an option for success.

Fortunately, many schools are taking steps in consultation with experts at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which have recommended that adults and teenagers get vaccinated and that schools utilize other public health measures like masks, screening testing, improved ventilation, hand washing, and social spacing to protect students and educators alike.

At First Focus on Children, we have argued that there should be a focused plan on getting young people vaccinated and get them back to school safely. As we wrote back in April 2021:

As states begin to loosen their COVID-19 restrictions and protections, more adults get vaccinated, and more social activities begin to return to pre-COVID-19 practices, unvaccinated children will be increasingly at risk. The administration must do everything in its power to foster the testing and distribution of safe and effective vaccines for children against COVID-19. Children have carried more burden over the last year during the COVID-19 epidemic than they should ever be asked to. We owe it to our children to protect them from this virus as quickly and effectively as possible, and we must plan now how to give them access to a vaccine once one has been approved for them.

A comprehensive plan would still be beneficial because the health care needs of children are different than those of adults. Such an agenda would hopefully include approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of a COVID-19 vaccine for kids 12 years of age and under.

More adults should also get vaccinated.

However, until we are able to get a much higher share of adults and children vaccinated, schools must continue to work to implement the array of public health measures to protect children from COVID and keep schools from having to resort to lockdowns and quarantines, which everybody should agree is something we should avoid as best as possible.

Therefore, it is deeply troubling that governors and other elected officials, who focused much of 2020 on creating protections for senior citizens and people with disabilities in nursing homes are suddenly arguing against such protections and public health measures when it comes to protecting children.

Adults, including parents, strongly support schools implementing public health measures to protect children. For example, a recent pollcommissioned by Florida Politics found that, by a wide 2-to-1 margin, Floridians strongly support mask mandates in schools.

Children desperately need a return to sanity, science, and rational respect and discourse in our country. Adults should prioritize the “best interests” of children when making policies that impact the lives of children.

This may seem like common sense. By an 81–13 percent margin, Americans support federal policy being “governed by a best interest of the child” standard.

As Drs. Michelle Fiscus and Jason Yaun point out, it is time for political leaders to do the right things for children and to be accountable for ensuring that the best interests of children are addressed.

Unfortunately, doing the right things for kids happens far less frequently than it should.

In this case, advocating against both vaccines and masks is not a policy in the best interest of children. It is a complete abdication of adult responsibility and leaves children completely unprotected. Doing “nothing” might not be malicious, but it is not neutral. It fails children by knowingly leaving children in harm’s way.

Far too often, elected officials choose to play politics with children. They sometimes treat children as mere pawns in a political game of catering to anti-science misinformation, anti-vax Facebook groups, and public school privatizers.

In the case of Gov. DeSantis, he seems to be operating under the mantra to never let “a serious crisis go to waste.” Just this past week, he used the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to pass emergency rules to further his long-standing goal of privatizing Florida’s public schools.

Efforts by governors or state legislators to either prohibit public health protections from being adopted by schools or implementing various forms of financing penalties to block such efforts puts the health of children at greater risk. As for school vouchers in Florida, taxpayers will be funding schools like Centner Academy, a private school in Miami, that has been at the epicenter of the lie that the COVID-19 vaccine threatens fertility.

Fortunately, in order to protect children from the harmful decisions by some governors, a number of parents and school districts are looking at options to sue or openly defy governors in order to affirmatively protect the health and safety of children.

In a piece of good news, last week a judge in Arkansas issued a preliminary injunction against the State’s ban on school mask mandates.

Protecting children and addressing their best interests should not be political or partisan. In fact, it is simply common sense. As Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former head of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) during the Trump Administration, said this weekend on Face the Nation:

I can’t think of a business right now that would put 30 unvaccinated people in a confined space without masks and keep them there for the whole day. No business would do that responsibly, and yet that’s what we’re going to be doing in some schools.

In fact, it would be helpful and less hypocritical if state officials would protect children in similar ways to how they are protecting themselves and other state employees.

And, as Dr. Ali Khan correctly points out, even when the issue is supposed to be about children, their concerns and needs are often not given the attention they demand. Sadly, the focus is often about everybody else’s opinions, but not those of kids.

Children have, as Georgia’s Fulton County Schools recognize, a fundamental right to weigh in on matters that impact their lives and to advocate for their own education, health, and nutrition. Some have argued it is sad that they have to speak out on political issues that impact their lives, but I strongly disagree.

In fact, it is critical that we encourage it and to lean in and hear their concerns and needs. We should be carefully listening to them and consider the affirmative roles that they can play in protecting themselves, their fellow students, their families, and their communities from COVID-19.

We also need more responsible adults to step up and speak out on behalf of the best interests of children. On a bipartisan basis, some are doing so.

Thanks to Dan Rather for focusing attention on the health of children.

Thanks to Anna Navarro-Cárdenas for putting children and medical science front and center.

And thanks to White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki for speaking out as both a parent and a policymaker.

There are also voices speaking up for kids against the odds, such as Ali Noland in Little Rock, Arkansas.

However, we need more voices for children and are asking you to join a growing movement to be an Ambassador for Children.

Children do not vote. They do not have Political Action Committees (PACs). And they do not employ lobbyists to demand that politicians act in their best interests.

As an Ambassador for Children, you would be a voice to help advocate for improving the lives and well-being of our nation’s children to cut child poverty, ensure all children have health coverage, reduce child hunger and homelessness, protect children from abuse, neglect, and child trafficking, and expand early childhood and high-quality child care options.

Another option is to donate to the work of First Focus on Children in our effort to educate lawmakers, the media, and the public about the needs and concerns of children and families both in the U.S. and abroad. Your contributions will help ensure that children are no longer ignored or treated like political pawns.

Kids are not alright and they need our voices and advocacy now — more than ever.

A Healthy Digital Environment for Children Means More than Protection

| August 4, 2021 |

For young people, the digital environment is a modern-day playground or park. It is where they hang out, socialize, and learn. But ask any parent or policymaker about children and online environments, and chances are they mostly see health and safety risks.

Protecting children from online exploitation, privacy violations, and manipulative business practices is vital. However, focusing exclusively on protection isn’t enough to ensure the online world is a healthy, positive space for children. It’s like building a playground fixating only on safety — abandoning any consideration of child development, the importance of play, and children’s social interactions.

Today, online spaces are a focal point of young people’s lives. Young children (8-12 years old) report almost 5 hours of screen time per day, while teenagers report more than 7 hours per day, not including school or homework time. And the COVID-19 pandemic has only added to that.

But as children live more of their lives online, it has become clear that the digital world, like most public spaces throughout history, was not designed specifically for kids. Research shows that the digital environment is adversely affecting children’s cognitive, social, and emotional development. These issues demand a response, but the goal cannot be just to avoid harm. Instead, we must affirmatively mold the digital environment into a space where children can develop and thrive.

Although social media and tech companies might feel too big to control, the digital environment is not a fixed space. It is continuously evolving, so we have the opportunity, and responsibility, to shape the online world into a healthier, more enriching space for young people.

To do so requires several steps. First, we must stop thinking of children as a homogenous group. The needs and capacities of a 15-year-old and a 5-year-old differ. Failing to account for these differences infantilizes adolescents and spurs responses that fit poorly with children’s developmental stages. Our policies and strategies must reflect the diversity of childhood and be responsive to child development, just as many playgrounds have different equipment for different ages of children.

Second, we need to see children as individuals with rights and not merely charitable causes needing protection. Yes, children need protection from online exploitation. In fact, they have a right to protection. But seeing children as rights holders means much more than a claim to protection; it means ensuring all rights of children online, including the right to education, to enjoy their own culture, and to play. That also means policies must not deny children their rights in the name of protecting or “saving” them.

Protective measures are needed, especially for young children, but they must be combined with measures that empower young people to navigate online spaces safely and reap the benefits of the online world. Digital literacy education offers one means of achieving this. It’s analogous to teaching children how to develop healthy relationships and avoid toxic or unsafe situations, rather than simply prohibiting them from leaving the house.

Third, we must recognize young people as members of our community who have a right to be heard now, and not only at some ill-defined point in the future. The digital environment can be a space where children learn about their rights and civic duties, make their voices heard, and articulate a better vision for our world. What would have been isolated school strikes to protest climate change 15 years ago have become global movements because of organizing and activism online. While Greta Thunberg’s stand may be one of the most recognizable examples of young people leading, there are countless others. In the United States, young people have emerged as leading voices on gun violence, climate change, racial injustice, and other issues, and they have used social media to build movements and demand action by both policymakers and the private sector.

Embracing these ideas does not mean abandoning efforts to protect children. We must address online exploitation, cyberbullying, and racial and gender-based discrimination online. But we don’t need to settle for harm avoidance as the best we can do. After all, today we design safer parks and playgrounds, where the risk of injury is significantly reduced but young people are still free to express themselves and to explore, interact, and develop.

Ultimately, we need a better vision of what the digital environment can become. Young people are already showing us that. Policymakers and tech companies need to join child advocates and parents in partnering with young people to help reshape the digital environment into a space in which children are not only safe but can thrive.

Jonathan Todres is a Distinguished University Professor & Professor of Law at Georgia State University College of Law. Joseph Wright is a Ph.D. candidate in education and MPH student in community health sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles.

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.