7 Ways Congress Can Honor Children on Universal Children’s Day

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Countries all around the world are celebrating children’s rights today. Today marks the 63rd anniversary of the United Nations establishing November 20 to be Universal Children’s Day and the 27th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child being adopted by the UN General Assembly. Globally, countries have used this treaty as a framework for putting the rights of children at the forefront of policy decisions and making progress in improving the health and well-being of millions of children.

Here, in the United States, we can be doing a lot more to ensure that children are thriving and support their rights. Below are seven ways that the federal government can do to improve the lives of children:

  1. Ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child. We still haven’t ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child treaty or adopted a similar child rights framework recognizing that children in the United States have rights. Children should be guaranteed to have their basic needs met, access to healthcare, a right to education, and freedom from any type of abuse or neglect. Without a federal framework, jurisdictions will continue to apply uneven standards, creating further disparities in outcomes for child well-being.
  1. Pass the Child Poverty Reduction Act and the Homeless Children and Youth Act. Currently, 18 percent of children are living in poverty in the U.S. with children experiencing poverty at a rate that is 62.5 percent higher than adults. Child and youth homelessness continues to skyrocket–in the 2014-2015 school year, the U.S. Department of Education identified 1.2 million homeless students, which is a 34 percent increase since the recession ended in the summer of 2009. Congress must pass the Child Poverty Reduction Act of 2017, which would establish a national target to reduce the number of children living in poverty in America by half in ten years and eliminating child poverty in twenty years, as well as institute a process to identify the most effective interventions to meet this target. In addition, Congress should pass the Homeless Children and Youth Act of 2017, which would allow communities to use homeless assistance funding to target the most vulnerable homeless children, youth and families in their community, regardless of the form of homelessness. No child in the United States should have to worry about where they will be sleeping on any given night.
  1. Reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). 9 million children depend on the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), a program designed specifically to meet the health and development needs of children. CHIP funding expired on September 30, 2017, and has not yet been reauthorized. Congress must reauthorize this vital program as soon as possible to prevent children from losing their health coverage. Ensuring that youth experience a healthy childhood helps them thrive and succeed as adults.
  1. Pass the Family First Prevention Services Act. There has also been an increase of children entering the child welfare system due to the opioid epidemic and substance use issues. These experiences can lead to lifelong struggles for families and children affected. Families need supportive environments to care for their children and access to treatment services and supports. The Family First Prevention Services Act would allow families to stay together by providing mental health services, substance abuse treatment, and in-home parenting skills for families at risk of entering the child welfare system.
  1. Reauthorize the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program (MIECHV). MIECHV provides funds for developing and implementing voluntary, evidence-based home visiting programs that improve maternal and newborn health; reduce child injuries, abuse and neglect; improve school readiness, improve family economic self-sufficiency; and improve coordination and referral for other community resources. The funding for MIECHV also expired on September 30, 2017 and must be reauthorized to continue to make significant impacts in lives of young children and families.
  1. Pass the bipartisan DREAM Act and support refugee children programs. A quarter of Deferred Action Against Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients have U.S. born citizen children. With the Trump Administration ending the program, many of these children live in fear that their families could be ripped apart and they may have to live with one parent or a relative if their primary caregiver is detained or deported. Many of these children also saw DACA as a beacon of hope that they could apply for when they came of age to pursue their educational and career goals and bring them out of the shadows. Congress should pass a clean DREAM Act to allow immigrant children and children of immigrants to live without fear. In addition, many children are fleeing gang violence, rape, and economic instability in Central American and coming to the United States, where we must ensure they are treated humanely and given access to services to help them rehabilitate from the trauma they have faced. Ending protections for refugees ignores the rights of these children to live in a safe environment.
  1. Reject tax reforms that harm children. Congress should make sure that tax reforms are not made on the backs of children. The current proposals that are being discussed in the House and Senate take away much needed resources for low-income families with children. The well-being of children must be considered in making far-reaching policy changes.

The list above is just a few ways that Congress can honor Universal Children’s Day to make a difference for kids in the United States. Our children are the future and it’s in everyone’s interest to ensure that they have rights and are given every opportunity to thrive and succeed.