Together with our outstanding partners at the national, state, and local levels, we are making some progress for kids once again. It sometimes isn’t easy to see and, for child advocates, it continues to be frustrating journey. However, even as we see gridlock or even some declines in some areas, we are also moving the “children’s agenda” forward in some very important ways. As David Castagnetti and Bruce Mehlman, bipartisan founders of the government affairs firm Mehlman Castagnetti Rosen and Thomas, pointed out in The Hill about the most recent year in Congress:

The public can be forgiven for missing the progress. There is high-decibel shouting from the campaign trail, stories of internecine Republican civil wars and endless vapid coverage of Donald Trump’s tweets and who’s up, who’s down in the polls. If one can get through the noise, however, the last 12 months have been among lawmakers’ most productive and consequential in recent memory.

For children, this has meant some important wins and instances where progress is being made, although certainly not as quickly as we would wish. At First Focus Campaign for Children, we worked in partnership with others on the following major successful initiatives in Congress:

We also gained support for a number of important issues to children within the Congress. To highlight just a few, the following are examples of key legislation that has been introduced to improve the lives of children:

  • The Health Insurance for Former Foster Youth Act (H.R. 3641/S. 1852), which removes eligibility restriction for health coverage tied to residency for former foster youth so that all young people who are eligible for Medicaid to 26 can receive coverage regardless of where they aged out of care or currently reside.
  • The Foster EITC Act (S. 2327) and the Julia Carson Responsible Fatherhood and Healthy Families Act of 2015 (H.R. 2359), which would expand eligibility for EITC to help youth formerly in care by lowering the age that former foster youth could claim the EITC from 25 to 18.
  • The Family First Act, which addresses longstanding barriers in federal child welfare financing by providing, for the first time, targeted new investments of Title IV-E of the Social Security Act in evidence-based prevention, intervention and post-permanency services and supports.
  • A Children’s Bill of Rights (H.Res. 476), a resolution that would establish a federal framework of child rights in the United States. More than 120 national and state partners endorsed the resolution.
  • And, despite some initial indications that Congress might seek to gut child nutrition standards established in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act in 2010, work by advocates has moved the debate and Congress appears to be poised to reauthorize the program with only minor changes and some important improvements.

Moreover, our sister organization, First Focus, has been engaged in a number of important efforts to raise awareness and build support for children through data analysis, coalition building, and other activities to expand public awareness and support for changing policies to improve the lives of children. These activities included:

  • Producing Children’s Budget 2015, a detailed guide to federal spending on children and resource for those seeking to improve the lives of America’s youth. The publication highlighted how the share of federal spending dedicated to children dropped below 8 percent in FY 2015.
  • Serving as a convener of the Children’s Budget Coalition (made up of 25 leading national children’s organizations) that helped successfully advocate for increasing the non-defense discretionary budget caps that were disproportionately restricting funding for federal children’s initiatives.
  • Expanding the reach and scope of the State Policy Advocacy and Reform Center (SPARC), a coalition of state-based advocacy organizations committed to improving the safety, health and well-being of children and families involved in the child welfare. The network now has 44 partners in 33 states.
  • Creating The Children’s Network, a movement led by individuals, non-profit organizations, and businesses committed to the health, education, and well-being of children in the United States. The Children’s Network shares information and tools to make children the priority in federal policy and budget decisions.
  • Publishing Big Ideas – Pioneering Change: Innovative Ideas for Children and Families, a collection of 14 ideas from leading lawmakers, children’s advocates, and policy experts outlining how to make America a better place to be a child and raise a family.
  • Publicized the harmful impact of family detention on refugee children and leading a sign-on letter by women and children’s organizations to call on the Administration to end the practice.
  • Signing on to an amicus brief, led by child advocates and educators, in support of the President’s Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) and the expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programs, and working to educate partners, policymakers, and the media on the potential impact of the programs on U.S. citizen children.
  • Producing a report that exposed 500 known cases of retailers advertising liquid nicotine as recognizable brand names of candy, breakfast cereal, and other foods and drinks that were being marketed to younger smokers and children.

Despite the fact that children are still faring poorly in a number of important areas, including the fact that 21 percent of our nation’s kids live in poverty, and the tone of our presidential election when it comes to immigrant families has been highly disappointing and divisive, it is important to reflect upon and recognize that some very important progress was made for children in 2015.

As we look forward and understand that 2016 is an election year and congressional action will likely decrease, we will also be analyzing relevant policy proposals put forth by presidential, Senate, and congressional candidates that would impact children under the hashtag #KidsOnTheBallot. But at the federal and state levels, we must redouble our efforts in pursuit of policy changes that will improve the lives of our nation’s children, particularly the most vulnerable among us.

Making progress for children in 2015: | How @campaign4Kids will #InvestInKids this year
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First Focus Campaign for Children is a bipartisan organization advocating to making children and families the priority in federal policy and budget decisions. You can support our work by making a donation or joining The Children’s Network to receive updates and action alerts.