Our nation’s children deserve the very best we have to offer them. Their best interests should be at the forefront of every decision made by our nation’s leaders at the federal, state, and local levels of government.

To achieve that goal, we have launched with other child advocates a campaign to urge our nation’s leaders to #Commit2Kids. Between now and the November 3 election in less than 100 days, we are challenging candidates and elected officials nationwide to tell us exactly what they will do for our country’s children.

Unfortunately, some politicians pay lip service to the needs of children because, after all, they are cute and polls consistently show that the American people are wildly supportive of improving the lives of children.

However, at key moments when children need politicians to step up or speak out to promote or protect their needs or best interest, kids are far too often treated as an afterthought, used as a bargaining chip in political negotiations, or shockingly, intentionally harmed.

In a preview of the forthcoming release of Children’s Budget 2020, First Focus on Children’s analysis finds that the domestic share of the federal budget dropped from 8.19 percent in President Obama’s last year in office in 2016 to just 7.48 percent in 2020 — a 9 percent reduction.

Furthermore, if President Trump’s proposed FY 2021 budget had been enacted, federal investments in children would have declined by another $21 billion on an inflation-adjusted basis.

If you really want to “make America great again,” you would invest in our children — our future.

The problem, of course, is that kids don’t vote. They don’t have paid lobbyists. They don’t run or operate a political action committee. One former senator told me that weeks often go by without children even being mentioned in the halls of Congress.

That must change. Our children deserve better.

To fellow child advocates, we are way too nice. The people that gravitate to working with and supporting children tend to be, by definition, kind and empathetic. However, we must stand up and speak out stronger in support of the next generation.

The failures to address the needs of children in this pandemic and economic recession are instructive. For months, some leaders dismissed the needs of children and even argued children were immune from harm, when the facts clearly dispelled that myth. Every aspect of the lives of children was being disrupted and it took months before many of our nation’s leaders even took notice.

Even before the pandemic, dozens of bills that would improve the lives of children and had bipartisan support have sat without action or consideration in the U.S. Senate. It is clear that children have been treated as an afterthought and are the victims of neglect by some of our nation’s political leaders, despite pleas for attention and action from child advocates.

Shockingly, at First Focus Campaign for Children, we could not identify a single vote in the U.S. Senate during all of 2019 that was specific to improving the lives of children. NOT ONE.

Even worse, when you see families being separated and kids being placed in cages along the U.S.-Mexico border, other political leaders are engaging in outright child abuse where cruelty has been the point.

Now some of those leaders have suddenly realized that schools and child care are critical needs in the economy and that the needs of children should have been a priority all along. As child advocates can attest, it is all too little, too late.

The President, whose policies have largely ignored or harmed children, is demanding that schools and child care centers reopen without having taken the necessary public health measures to make them safe to reopen, without having provided schools and child care centers the necessary resources and support to safely reopen, and with no real plan.

Parents are deeply concerned about the consequences of President Trump’s demand to reopen schools. In fact, opposition to reopening schools by the public has been rising, as only one-third of the public supports “allowing K-12 schools. . .to open at the end of the summer.”

Any blame directed at schools is misplaced. As Chalkbeat managing editor Susan Darville points out:

Outrage over schools’ inability to fully reopen should not, of course, be directed at schools themselves, but at the public health failure that makes it impossible for most of them to do so. . . So if the first sin was failing to control the pandemic, the second was letting the virus run wild in a country ill-suited to handle the cascading consequences. The people left to figure it out are superintendents, school board members, teachers, and parents, for whom that simple word ‘reopen’ actually entails a dizzying array of interlocking problems. The people who will pay the eventual price are America’s children, for years to come.

All across our vast country, our nation’s educators that care for our children and parents are being asked to deal with a lose-lose proposition.

In rural Arizona, superintendent Jeff Gregorich has been pushed to reopen the district’s schools or the governor said he will withhold some of the school district’s funding. Trump has also threatened to withhold funds from schools that cannot fully open.

Gregorich has seen a teacher die as a result of COVID and others have been infected. These are real world and real life decisions that are being laid upon his doorstep and public schools all across the country as a consequence of public health, political, and leadership failures not the fault of our schools. He explains:

These kids need every dollar we can get. But COVID is spreading all over this area and hitting my staff, and now it feels like there’s a gun to my head. I already lost one teacher to this virus. Do I risk opening back up even if it’s going to cost us more lives? Or do we run school remotely and end up depriving these kids?

He adds:

I don’t understand how anyone could expect us to reopen the building this month in a way that feels safe. It’s like they’re telling us: “Okay. Summer’s over. It’s been long enough. Time to get back to normal.” But since when has this virus operated on our schedule?

I dream about going back to normal. I’d love to be open. These kids are hurting right now. I don’t need a politician to tell me that. We only have 300 students in this district, and they’re like family. My wife is a teacher here, and we had four kids go through these schools. I know whose parents are laid off from the copper mine and who doesn’t have enough to eat. We delivered breakfast and lunches this summer, and we gave out more meals each day than we have students. I get phone calls from families dealing with poverty issues, depression, loneliness, boredom. Some of these kids are out in the wilderness right now, and school is the best place for them. We all agree on that.

But every time I start to play out what that looks like on August 17th, I get sick to my stomach. More than a quarter of our students live with grandparents. These kids could very easily catch this virus, spread it and bring it back home. It’s not safe. There’s no way it can be safe.

If you think anything else, I’m sorry, but it’s a fantasy. Kids will get sick, or worse. Family members will die. Teachers will die.

The children are not alright. Every aspect of their lives are being impacted by the pandemic and the economic recession and their voices, concerns, anxiety, hopes, and dreams should be listened to, fully considered, and most of all, addressed.

We must demand that our political leaders #Commit2Kids and to stop ignoring the needs and best interest of our children and families and to make children a priority in their decision-making.

We must vote for and elect more Champions for Children like New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, who understand that investing in children is in all of our interest.

Sen. Booker gets it, as he explains:

The most valuable resource in a global, knowledge-based society is the genius of a nation’s children. And the nation that best cultivates that genius is the nation that best thrives.

Booker adds:

This is our moral moment. And I hope, for the sake of our children, that all of us exercise our power and do more than we were doing before.

In November, America will decide who gets to lead in the White House, Congress, and in a number of states. Before we cast a single ballot, we should demand that our leaders make this set of commitments to our children —

  • A commitment to help every child fulfill their fullest potential, which includes fully funding our nation’s public schools and child care centers and doing whatever it takes to help children return safely.
  • A commitment to “Cover All Kids” with affordable, accessible, and high-quality health coverage.
  • A commitment to cut child poverty in half by the end of the decade.
  • A commitment to protect children from abuse and neglect.
  • A commitment to ensure that no child goes to bed hungry.
  • A commitment to ensure that every child has a place to call home, a place that is safe and where they can play, dream, and plan for their future.
  • A commitment to ensure a “best interest of the child” standard is at the heart of all policymaking related to children and families, regardless of race, gender, income, disability, sexual preference, or immigration status.
  • And, a commitment to create an independent Children’s Commissioner that will listen to and raise the voices of children and help hold the government answerable for addressing the needs and well-being of children.

Join this movement to #Commit2Kids at https://ffcommit2kids.org/.