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Americans are deeply concerned about the future of our nation’s children. A Battleground Poll by the Tarrance Group and Lake Research in May finds that, by a 69-26 percent margin, Americans do not believe the next generation will be better off economically than the current generation.
The American people recognize that the nation’s children face a whole array of problems, including poverty, violence, abuse, hunger, education inequity, poor nutrition, homelessness, and infant mortality, that demands attention, policy solutions, political will, and action.
Unfortunately, kids are far too often an afterthought in Congress. The problem is that children don’t vote and don’t have Political Action Committees (PACs) that garner and demand attention.
In an attempt to measure and recognize those Members of Congress who are working on and trying to address the unique needs of children, the First Focus Campaign for Children created a unique “Champions for Children” scorecard in 2010 that awards points to legislators based on votes – just as many other nationally-based groups do – but also on the sponsorship and co-sponsorship of legislation, membership in congressional caucuses specific to children, and other affirmative steps to raise attention to and push for policy changes to improve the lives of our nation’s children. This year’s 100 “Champions and Defenders of Children” includes 34 senators and 66 representatives who are willing to make children a top priority in the Congress.
What makes this group of Champions for Children unique is that they specifically pay attention to and seek to address problems facing America’s children across a range of issues. And, as Congress debates and sets the nation’s federal priorities on policy and budget matters, they are willing to ask and demand a positive answer to the simple but critically important question: “Is it good for the children?”
This year’s list, which changes from year-to-year based on the different sets of issues that are raised and voted on by Congress, includes 62 men and 38 women. We would note that there are another 100 or so members of the House and Senate that have either been recognized in the past but barely managed to miss the cut-off for this year’s list or are enormous champions for children in a specific policy area but may be less active on the full range kids’ issues. We also very much appreciate their work.
The problem for children, however, is that having 200 or so strong supporters of children in the two legislative bodies that include 100 senators and 435 representatives is simply not enough. As child advocates, while we have enormous gratitude and appreciation for all the Members of Congress who are great supporters of our nation’s children, we must also solemnly reflect on the fact that we are still short of what it takes to enact meaningful change for children across all issue areas. For example, 21 percent of our nation’s children are living in poverty, and yet, Congress has paid little attention to or sought to address a range of important pieces of legislation that could address this crisis.
That is unacceptable and we must redouble our efforts to encourage the public to make children a priority when they vote and to get legislators to make children a priority when they arrive in Washington, D.C. Children are counting on us and the legislators that are supposed to be representing and addressing their needs.
Women: The Strongest Champions for Children
First, since the Congress is 81 percent male and just 19 percent female, women were actually far more likely to be named a Champion for Children than their male counterparts. In fact, 36.5 percent of women legislators and just 14.2 percent of men made the list. Therefore, women were almost 2.6 times more likely to be named a Champion or Defender for Children than their male counterparts.
Moreover, among the Top 50 Champions, a woman was 3.6 times more likely to be named a Champion than a man. For example, in the Senate, the four senators with the highest number of positive actions in support of children were Democratic women: Patty Murray (WA), Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), Dianne Feinstein (CA), and Tammy Baldwin (WI). The top scoring Republican was also a woman: Susan Collins (ME).
Men: Some in Congress Are Outstanding but Far Too Many Are Doing Little or Nothing for Kids
Fortunately, there are strong advocates for children among men as well, including a number of men who have demonstrated great leadership for kids over the years. In fact, legislators such as Sens. Robert Casey (PA), Sherrod Brown (OH), and Rep. Raul Grijalva (AZ) have had among the highest number of positive actions for children on the FFCC scorecard over the past few years.
Men are also narrowing the overall gender gap somewhat. For example, in 2012, the women-to-men ratio was over 3-to-1 overall, so men are making some progress.
However, on the downside, 33 of the 34 senators and 44 of the 46 representatives with the fewest number of positive actions, or even more negative than positive actions on the Champions scorecard, were men. Put another way, of the 80 Members of Congress with the weakest record on children’s issues this year, a shocking 96.3 percent were men.
The Congressional Tri-Caucus Members Are Strong Supporters of Children
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus were 85 percent more likely to be named a Champion or Defender of Children than the average Member of Congress. Over the seven years that FFCC has produced a Champions for Children scorecard, a member of one of the three caucuses has had the highest or second highest number of positive actions for children in the House of Representatives every single year.
States and Regional Variation
The following 20 states had at least 20 percent of their members receive recognition for being a Champion of Children: Alaska, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island (the entire delegation), Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin.
On a regional basis, the Northeast led the way with 31.3 percent of their members earning recognition. The West and Midwest fared well with 25.0 percent and 18.8 percent, respectively. But unfortunately, the South brought up the rear with just 8.2 percent among the highest ranked Members of Congress (16 out of 194 members).
Celebrating the Champions and Defenders of Children
Although child advocates still have enormous work to do, particularly among legislators of my gender, it is important to note that there are many legislators who are willing to speak out for and stand up for children, even as those issues compete against powerful special interests with Political Action Committees (PACs). For that, we offer our special thanks to this year’s Champions and Defenders of Children.
The Numbers Behind @Campaign4Kids’ Congress’s Champions for Children: http://bit.ly/1PhHfDA #InvestInKids
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