Unveiling the 2023 Champions and Defenders of Children: Who Commits to Kids?

Federal Budget

In the halls of Congress, former Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) once told child advocates that she could go for weeks on end without hearing any of her colleagues in the U.S. Senate talk about the needs of children, even though they are all of our future.

Children do not vote, only recently got a Political Action Committee (PAC) to contribute to candidates in their name, and do not have membership groups like AARP pushing Congress to address their interests. This poses an immense challenge to gaining the attention of politicians.

🎧 In a positive development, Their Voices. Our Vote, is a PAC that was created in recent months by Dr. Annie Andrews and Renee Harvey to raise money and engage in the political process on behalf of children. They were guests on our most recent episode on the Speaking of Kids podcast. Listen here.

The First Focus Campaign for Children’s Legislative Scorecard

To identify and publicly acknowledge those lawmakers who step up, commit, and prioritize the needs of children in their work in the Senate and House of Representatives, First Focus Campaign for Children has created a Legislative Scorecard that pinpoints the votes taken and bills introduced in Congress that impact the lives of children in either positive or negative ways. The Legislative Scorecard awards points for votes and bill introductions that would improve the lives of children and subtracts points for those that would be harmful.

To publicly acknowledge and provide an accountability measure, the Legislative Scorecard identifies 120 of the very best members of the House and Senate as Champions and Defenders of Children.

At a time when child mortality, child poverty, homelessness, and child hunger are on the rise and other threats are being made to the health and education of children, kids desperately need legislators, who hold the power to make a difference in the lives of children, to “Commit to Kids.”

Other advocacy groups have similar scorecards that are focused on whether lawmakers align with the groups’ stated positions on various votes. However, Congress rarely takes votes that are specific to children. Consequently, First Focus Campaign for Children’s Legislative Scorecard is somewhat unique and complex and awards points to lawmakers based on both their votes taken, bills introduced, and bills cosponsored that are either favorable or negative to kids.

The recognition of House and Senate members as Champions or Defenders of Children is not just a title, but a testament to the relentless efforts and prioritization of the health, education, safety, and well-being of children in Congress. The Legislative Scorecard showcases those lawmakers who actively support legislation aimed at improving the well-being of children and who oppose legislation that would impose harm.

Significance of Female Lawmakers’ Leadership

The 2023 Legislative Scorecard highlights a noteworthy trend: the pivotal role of female lawmakers in championing children’s causes. Women in Congress have historically been more inclined toward being “Champions for Children.” However, in 2023, women were 2.8 times more likely to earn the title of Champion or Defender of Children than their male colleagues. Of the women serving in the House and Senate, 42% earned distinction compared to 15% of men.

For the first time, women outnumber men on the Legislative Scorecard, which is a significant milestone considering women comprise just 29% of the members of Congress. This factor is all the more important as women are increasingly moving into positions of power, such as Champions and Defenders of Children Rosa DeLauro (D-CT – Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Committee), Patty Murray (D-WA – Chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee), Susan Collins (R-ME – Vice Chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee), and, Debbie Stabenow (D-MI – Chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee).

Moreover, the top four of the top five members in the House in terms of points were women, led by Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) and Barbara Lee (D-CA).

Interestingly, the Senate poses a bit of a counter-narrative as four of the top five leaders in terms of points were men, led by Cory Booker (D-NJ).

Regional Variation and Analysis

The First Focus Campaign for Children’s Legislative Scorecard also sheds light on the geographic dimensions of support of children.

First, the Northeast emerges as the “Region of Champions,” with an impressive 45% of its congressional members recognized as advocates for children. This concentration of advocacy in the Northeast (represented by Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware) surpasses the combined figures of the other four regions, speaks volumes about the region’s commitment to children.

This region is led by Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Bob Casey (D-PA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Ed Markey (D-MA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), John Fetterman (D-PA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Susan Collins (R-ME), and Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Jim McGovern (D-MA), Yvette Clarke (D-NY), Jahana Hayes (D-CT), Mary Gay Scanlon (D-PA), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Jamaal Bowman (D-NY), Grace Meng (D-NY), Susan Wild (D-PA), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Ann Kuster (D-NH), David Trone (D-MD), and Mike Lawler (R-NY).

The region is also led by Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) who was the top-performing Republican member in Congress on our Legislative Scorecard.

Second, the West, a frontrunner among the regions in 2019, has 31% of its representatives as either Champions or Defenders. This Western region includes Alaska, Hawaii, California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Nevada.

This region is led by Sen. Patty Murray (D-MA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Alex Padilla (D-CA), and Reps. Suzanne Bonamici (D-WA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Nanette Barragán (D-CA), Sara Jacobs (D-CA), Suzan DelBene (D-WA), Jimmy Gomez (D-CA), Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA), Katie Porter (D-CA), Adam Schiff (D-CA), Sydney Kamlager-Dove (D-CA), Jill Tokuda (D-HI), Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA), Judy Chu (D-CA), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), and Lori Chavez-DeRemer (R-OR).

The Midwest (Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and Missouri) maintains a steady middle ground with 15% of its members as Champions or Defenders.

This region is led by Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Richard Durbin (D-IL), and Tina Smith (D-MN), and Reps. Gwen Moore (D-WI), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Danny Davis (D-IL), Mark Pocan (D-WI), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), and André Carson (D-IN).

Fourth, the Southwest and Plains states lag behind. The Southwest (Arizona, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas) and Plains states (Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota) had 12% of their members represented on our list.

This region is led by Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), and Reps. Yadira Caraveo (D-CO), Jasmine Crockett (D-TX), RaĂşl Grijalva (D-AZ), Don Bacon (R-NE), and Colin Allard (D-TX).

Last, the Southeast region (Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Arkansas) produced just 10% of Champions and Defenders.

This region is led by Sens. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) and Roger Wicker (R-MS), and Reps. Alma Adams (D-NC), Nikema Williams (D-GA), Kathy Castor (D-FL), and Morgan McGarvey (D-KY).

This regional breakdown tracks the disparities in outcomes for children in different parts of the country and underscores the need for increased advocacy efforts in regions that continue to lag behind.

Key Legislation and Actions Considered in the Scorecard

The Legislative Scorecard also highlights the highs and lows of Congress in 2023.

In some important ways, Champions and Defenders and some others in Congress are stepping up to prioritize the needs and well-being of children. There are bills to address infant and maternal mortality, child health coverage, pediatric research, children’s mental health, child poverty, homelessness, hunger, education, early childhood, child care, family medical leave, child abuse and neglect, child labor, and issues of importance to children internationally.

Unfortunately, other senators and members of Congress are failing kids with proposals to slash investments in children, abolish care and services to kids, promote book bans, and use children as pawns to stoke fear and division for political gain. First Focus Campaign for Children opposes those votes and bills and subtracts points to those who promote and support them.

Policy matters, and consequently, every piece of legislation examined in the Legislative Scorecard carries the potential to significantly alter the landscape for children.

For instance, laws aimed at protecting children from toxic chemicals directly impact their immediate health and future well-being. Similarly, access to high-quality child care is not just about safety but also about nurturing the developmental and educational needs of children.

The Role of Policymakers and the Importance of Bipartisan Support

Leadership matters. In fact, the role of policymakers in shaping the future of our children cannot be overstated. Their decisions and actions have far-reaching consequences, impacting not just the present state of child well-being but also setting the trajectory for future generations. To ensure that children are not ignored in Congress, as Sen. Mikulski had told us often happens, we need Champions and Defenders to prioritize and speak up for kids in a forceful, impactful, and timely manner.

Fortunately, a number of lawmakers act in a bipartisan fashion for children. Children’s issues should transcend political affiliations and promote a unified approach from all policymakers.

Sadly, despite the array of challenges facing children, some politicians are pushing for legislation that would be harmful to kids. Concerning those bills, we hope our Legislative Scorecard can be used by the public to hold their members accountable for their bad votes and bad legislative proposals.

On this point, 2023 had its highs and lows:

  • With respect to the lows, First Focus Campaign for Children scored 25 key votes in the House and Senate on children’s issues and a highly disappointing 80% were legislative actions we opposed. Unfortunately, to appease the more extreme members of the Republican Caucus, former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) hurt moderate and rank-and-file Republican members on the Legislative Scorecard by scheduling and urging support for bills and amendments that were typically more harmful (17) to children than beneficial (5).
  • As for the highs, of the 237 bills that we “scored” in the Legislative Scorecard, the vast majority were positive and none of the bills that were harmful to kids had bipartisan support. Now we need congressional leadership to move these more beneficial bills forward.

The 2024 Election

In 2024, it will be even more difficult to get Congress to take positive action in an election year, but critical votes are still highly likely. Even in the next few weeks, there will be votes on the budget for fiscal year 2024 that could result in funding increases or cuts to children’s programs and even to a potential tax package that could result in up to $35 billion in new investments through the Child Tax Credit over the next few years. We will keep pushing and working to hold lawmakers accountable.

We would also urge voters to use the Legislative Scorecard when considering whom to vote for in primaries and general elections for Congress and the Senate. Critically important Champion and Defenders of Children are up for reelection in the Senate in Pennsylvania (Sen. Casey), Ohio (Sen. Brown), Wisconsin (Sen. Baldwin), and Nevada (Sen. Jacky Rosen) in November. Furthermore, Champions and Defenders in the House from Arizona (Rep. Gallego) and California (Reps. Lee, Porter, and Schiff) are running for the Senate.

And finally, all other House members are up for reelection this year, including Champion for Children, Rep. Caraveo (a pediatrician), and our former colleague, Rep. Gabe Vasquez (D-NM), who is a rising Champion for Children, as first-term members of Congress.

For children, these things all go together: policy matters, leadership matters, committing to kids matters, and elections matter. We urge people to #VoteKids and consider supporting the work of our friends at Their Voices. Our Vote.

If you would like to help ensure that children and their needs, concerns, and best interests are no longer ignored by policymakers, please join First Focus Campaign for Children as an “Ambassador for Children” or become a paid subscriber to help us continue our work, including the Legislative Scorecard, on behalf of children. We do not have dedicated support for this work and rely on supporters like yourself to support it. Thank you!