The Biden-Harris Administration took office at a time of deep uncertainty in our country. Political divisiveness, a raging pandemic, and its subsequent economic fallout demanded immediate and effective action.

Political discourse and legislative actions leave children behind in the best of times. Child advocates feared what would become of children in the turmoil of the pandemic. The Biden-Harris Administration answered this question not only by including kids in their political agenda, but by centering their needs in emergency measures.

The American Rescue Plan Act provided critical funding to childcare providers, public schools and Head Start centers to better support children and allow parents and caregivers to return to work. It invested in programs that combat child hunger and homelessness, and in youth wraparound services to address the fallout from increased unemployment and school closures. Expanded eligibility for essential programs such as the Children’s Health Insurance Program and Medicaid helped protect health care coverage for millions of children. One of the most notable reforms created a more equitable tax code by strengthening the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit. On their own, the CTC improvements reduced child poverty by more than 40% and lifted millions of children out of poverty.

The impact of these provisions cannot be overstated. Thanks to the Biden Administration and Congressional leadership, the federal share of spending on children rose from an all-time low of 7.55% in 2020 to a record high of 11.98% in 2022.

These efforts supported children at a time of increased need. But the truth is that these reforms have always been desperately needed. The emergencies of child hunger, inequitable education, lack of health care coverage, child poverty, and other issues existed long before the pandemic and they persist today. Unfortunately, many of the provisions in the American Rescue Plan Act were temporary and have either expired or will soon cease.

The Biden Administration clearly understands the need to continue supporting and prioritizing children. President Biden called for an American Families Plan that would have made historic investments in our nation’s children through universal pre-school, teacher training and retention, direct support to children and families, child care affordability, paid family and medical leave, child nutrition, strengthened tax cuts that benefit children, and other measures. First Focus on Children said this plan had “the potential to be the most important piece of legislation for children and families ever.” Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of Champions for Children in the Administration and many in Congress, this plan did not come to fruition. The House-passed Build Back Better Act included 436 mentions of children. By the time it passed Congress as the Inflation Reduction Act, it contained only one meaningful mention of children. Once again, the political process had left children behind.

Now, with a divided Congress, child advocates are once again asking: What will happen to children?

First Focus Campaign for Children and other child advocates hope that Congress will do right by kids. Recent legislative victories show that children are a unifying force. Lawmakers of all parties came together to address gun violence and the mental health crisis in the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. Lawmakers also recently invested in climate change to protect future generations from environmental impacts. 

First Focus Campaign for Children’s recent Children’s Agenda lays out for Congress actions that can be taken to address the immediate needs of children, as well as ways to ensure long-term progress. We are eager to work alongside members to that end.

But the needs of children are great, and therefore our response must be too. Protecting the most vulnerable requires efforts from all of us — advocates, community members, parents and family members, Administration officials, members of Congress, local elected leaders and others.

This report shares ways in which the Biden Administration can take immediate action for children. It highlights ways in which executive authority can be used to protect children and notes key pieces of legislation under consideration in Congress that would benefit from the support of the Administration.

Kids can’t wait. They are at a crossroads and our actions will determine which path they take.