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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.

State Department must do more to make foreign assistance for children transparent

| May 26, 2021 |

In Children’s Budget 2020, First Focus on Children sought to identify and categorize — for the first time — how much of the U.S. foreign assistance budget benefits children and youth. Our analysis found that federal funding is spread among 26 to 30 offices, depending on the fiscal year. We synthesized data from various government entities, non-governmental organizations, experts, coalitions, and other stakeholders to inform our work and to find the best data for making our assessment. We found that the U.S. government currently does no centralized tracking and monitoring of funding streams that specifically benefit children. Rather, myriad accounts, sub-accounts, and program directives both directly and indirectly benefit children abroad. Unlike the domestic side of the budget, international expenditures on children are difficult — and sometimes impossible — to track until years after they are disbursed.

Based on our experiences, First Focus read with interest the recently released report from the General Accounting Office that recommended improving monitoring and evaluation of the State Department’s Foreign Assistance Data Review (FADR). Launched in 2014 in response to concerns from members of Congress, the State Department Inspector General, and the GAO about the Department’s ability to track and report foreign assistance, the FADR was intended to modify the existing agency-wide data systems to improve financial and programmatic data. It was largely completed by December 2020. The GAO’s report, entitled “Foreign Assistance: State Department Should Better Assess Results of Efforts to Improve Financial and Some Program Data,” found that while the State Department had implemented most of its plan, it still had no mechanisms in place to know whether FADR was addressing the problems.

GAO’s review of the FADR assessed the status of the State Department’s plan to improve tracking and reporting of foreign assistance. The FADR plan addressed some data gaps and changed requirements for getting foreign assistance data. However, a State IG report found that many bureaus managing foreign assistance were unaware of the planned changes to agency-wide systems. Furthermore, the FADR plan lacked a monitoring and evaluation (M&E) component to assess effectiveness, address any problems or challenges, and ensure compliance with affected bureaus.

The FADR changes were applied between fiscal years 2017 and 2020. Yet, when First Focus on Children included these fiscal years in our Children’s Budget, we found that it was still challenging to track data. The GAO report also stated two tracking systems, and Foreign Aid Explorer are to be consolidated. We found the website difficult to navigate and worry about the data integration with Foreign Aid Explorer.

Funding for children is either opaque or impossible to track without the adoption of practices and procedures designed to better follow the investments. While we are pleased to see the FADR plan being implemented, more must be done to make this funding transparent and allow stakeholders to track progress on these programs. We suggest soliciting feedback from non-governmental organizations as part of the monitoring and evaluation plan to ensure the FADR plan improves and fulfills its stated goals. Policymakers cannot make international budgeting priorities without knowing how effectively they address the most vulnerable populations—including global children and youth.

The Biden Administration and Congress Must Protect Transgender Kids

| May 7, 2021 |

Photo by Denin Lawley on Unsplash

In his first address to a joint session of Congress, President Biden addressed transgender youth directly: “I want you to know your president has your back.

His acknowledgment is timely. Just five months into the year, 2021 has seen a staggering volume of legislation introduced — more than 100 bills in 33 states — that targets trans children and their caretakers by criminalizing standard medical care, restricting access to school sports, and more:

  • At least 24 bills would prohibit or restrict medical professionals from prescribing gender-affirming care to minors — at least one bill would make it a felony offense, and North Carolina and Oklahoma define “minor” as anyone under 21;
  • At least 56 bills introduced in state legislatures would bar trans youth from playing on the sports teams that match their gender identity;
  • At least four bills would require government agents, including school employees like teachers, to notify parents immediately if they believe their child may be transgender or gender non-conforming (NC SB 514; SC HB 4047; AL SB 10/HB 303; IA HF 193).

Other implications of state bills include, but are not limited to:

  • Making it a form of child abuse for parents to consent to gender-affirming care for their child, punishable by loss of custody and up to 10 years in prison (TX SB 1646);
  • Enforcing athletics restrictions via invasive exams to “verify the student’s biological sex” (FL HB 1475);
  • Barring insurers from covering gender-affirming care for anyone under 18 (AR HB 1570);
  • Allowing doctors to refuse care to LGBTQ patients based on religious beliefs (AR SB 289).

Why the targeted cruelty toward transgender youth? This recent state legislative trend may reflect political backlash to the second attempted passage of the Equality Act in Congress, which would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to include gender identity and sexual orientation as protected characteristics, or to the anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ workers provided by the 2020 Bostick v. Clayton County decision.

But the number of anti-trans bills, and the moral panic their sponsors stoke, has been growing since at least 2015. These bills assert disproven ideas that children and adolescents lack the capacity to understand their own identities, or that affirming adults are facilitating harm. Since Anita Bryant’s “Save Our Children” crusade against anti-discrimination laws in the 1970s, unsubstantiated concerns about children’s safety have been a favored pretense for anti-LGBTQ measures.

In reality, the anti-trans legislation being debated and signed into law across the country right now will inflict real, immediate harm on transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming children.

A recent study concluded that trans children who have earlier access to gender-affirming medical care are less likely to suffer from mental health conditions. Trans and gender non-conforming youth already face higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation, so restricting access to known effective interventions poses grave risks.

One study of 10 states’ proposed restrictions projected that more than 45,000 children could lose medical care. The American Academy of Pediatrics, American Psychiatric Association, Association of American Medical Colleges, and American Medical Association have vocally opposed bans on gender-affirming medical care and access to school sports.

Bills banning transgender students from secondary and post-secondary sports teams that match their gender identity would effectively bar them from athletics altogether, and counter the more inclusive precedents set by the International Olympic Committee and the NCAA.

What can be done at the federal level?

The Biden Administration and Congress need to take swift and decisive action to strengthen federal protections so that kids’ rights aren’t subject to the whims of their state legislatures.

President Biden has taken an important step by signing an Executive Order affirming that transgender and gender non-conforming students are protected from discrimination under Title IX. We propose two next steps for Congress and the Biden Administration:

1.Pass the Equality Act

The Equality Act passed the House for the second time in February. The bill first passed the House in 2019, but then-Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declined to allow a hearing or floor vote in the Senate. Its fate in the Senate remains uncertain and it is a likely candidate for filibuster.

President Biden has expressed emphatic support for the legislation, and now Champions for Children in the Senate must make every effort to pass the Equality Act.

2.Make protecting LGBTQ youth a top priority for the Department of Justice

Many of the state bills targeting trans youth are likely unconstitutional. President Biden’s Department of Justice should follow the example of Former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who publicly denounced North Carolina’s Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act — better known as HB2 or the “bathroom bill” — as “state-sanctioned discrimination.” The DOJ filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the state of North Carolina in 2016.

The DOJ under Attorney General Merrick Garland should treat attacks on trans kids’ rights with even greater urgency and file lawsuits or issue statements of interest wherever possible.

The bottom line

Restricting children’s and adolescents’ access to medical care, school sports, and privacy is dehumanizing and unscientific. The state bills discussed here would unequivocally harm kids and families; LGBTQ youth deserve support and appropriate care. President Biden has signaled his support. Passing the Equality Act in the Senate and preparing the DOJ to champion legal challenges are critical next steps.

WATCH: “What If Kids Were In Charge?”

| April 28, 2021 |

As we approached the election last November, First Focus on Children and Highlights For Children sought out the most ignored constituency in our country — children — and asked them what they would say to the grown-ups in charge of their lives.

The response was overwhelming — we received messages from all over the country — from teenagers and preschoolers, from small towns to big cities, from Zoom schoolers, and from socially distanced classrooms.

Here is a brief sample of the messages we received right after the election:

Now, as President Biden reaches his 100th day in office, we reflect on what we learned from the children who sent us videos and letters — and what all of us can do to make sure our leaders — the grown-ups in charge — listen to their voices.

Join the conversation live on April 29th on Facebook or at this link.

As vaccine rollout ramps up, kids ask, “what about us?”

| April 22, 2021 |

Photo by Allison Shelley for EDUimages

Last week as I excitedly told my 6- and 3-year-old daughters that my husband and I had been able to schedule COVID-19 vaccination appointments for ourselves, my older daughter said quickly, urgently, and loudly, “What about us??”. What an honest and gutting question. What about them and all of the other children who cannot yet get vaccine protection against COVID-19? Her question was more significant to me than to her, but she is well-aware of the pandemic and our path out of it. And she wants to be on that path, too.

Children have carried some of the heaviest burdens during this pandemic. They have endured school and child care closures; increases in mental health needs; parent deaths; increased poverty; and rising hunger. It is time for us to stand up for them. We must ensure that they too are able to benefit from a safe and effective vaccine and an organized, accessible system for distributing it.

Twenty percent of adults say they will only get vaccinated if it is required, or that they will “definitely not” get vaccinated. This attitude shifts the burden of reaching herd immunity to our children, who will need exceptionally high rates of vaccination to make up for adults who choose not to get a vaccine. It is extremely unfair — and irresponsible — to let the choices of adults imperil the lives of our children. Children will now have to be key to our efforts of reaching herd immunity. The federal government must devise a vaccination rollout plan to meet children’s specific needs, and it must do it now.

The challenges of vaccinating children will be different from the challenges of vaccinating adults, and we therefore need a plan tailor-made for children. These challenges include distribution methods and locations in order to reach all children, vaccine-hesitant caregivers, racial inequities in vaccine distribution and use, and the perception that COVID-19 does not affect children. Overcoming these challenges will require adequate and planned funding, an effective distribution process, and a public education campaign.

We look forward to the time when all children can return in-person to school and their lives can regain a sense of normalcy. In order to ensure that happens, the federal government must prepare now for the vaccine that will eventually be available for children and determine how to distribute it equitably and effectively. Only then will we have an answer to the question, “What about us?”

This Earth Day, Let’s Remember to Prioritize Kids in Climate Change Policy

| April 21, 2021 |

Since President Biden has taken office, it seems America is finally taking the threat of climate change and the implications it has seriously. Just hours after being inaugurated, Biden issued several executive orders that aim to protect the environment and public health. After four years of an attack on science, it was great to see action being taken. But more work needs to be done – and children need to be a priority in what we do next. 

Today, President Biden is hosting a virtual Leaders’ Climate Summit where over 40 nations will be present. It is a wonderful opportunity for America to re-establish itself as a leader in the fight against climate change. Yet the agenda includes not one mention of children. How can we effectively address the issue of climate change without discussing how it will impact the most vulnerable among us? 

Unfortunately, it is all too common that children are an afterthought in such discussions. Yet it is their futures that will be threatened by rising global temperatures, destructive natural disasters, and toxic pollution. Children are also impacted differently, and sometimes more harshly, by the negative implications of climate change. Children are not just little adults. Their bodies react differently to toxic environmental exposures because of differences in physiology and behavior. Children drink more water, eat more food, and breathe more air in relation to their body weight than adults. They also exhibit hand-to-mouth behavior frequently and live and play closer to the ground. These differences put them at a much higher risk of being exposed to environmental threats, such as air pollution, water pollution, and toxic substances.

Earth Day is a time for people around the world to reflect on the state of our planet. This year, let’s remember that the stakes are higher than ever before as we begin to see an increase in the consequences of rising global temperatures – raging wildfires, brutal hurricane seasons, toxic pollution, and more. We have an obligation to the world’s children to take action before it’s too late.

Click here to read the letter we wrote to the administration urging them to include children in the Leaders’ Climate Summit. 

The Fight to End Child Poverty: A Conversation with Rep. Rosa DeLauro

| April 20, 2021 |

Join us on April 21st at 3:15 pm ET for a conversation with Rep. Rosa DeLauro — the chair of the House Appropriations Committee, a 16-term Congresswoman representing Connecticut’s 3rd congressional district, and a steadfast Champion for Children. The main focus of our conversation will be about the fight to end child poverty in the United States — specifically through programs like the Child Tax Credit. This is a cause that Rep. DeLauro has been fighting for over two decades that has recently become a centerpiece of the American Rescue Plan and could now become permanent if Champions for Children like her are successful in Congress.

Join us to learn more about the fight, how we got here, and what all of us can do now!