The 115th Congress was a particularly rough one for children. By some measures, it may have been among the worst in decades. While lawmakers delivered on some important pieces of legislation, such as the 10-year reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), dozens of other bills that would have improved the lives of our nation’s most vulnerable children went nowhere.

Fortunately, some members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives fought for children. Their work should be acknowledged and recognized by child advocates and parents across the country, which is why First Focus Campaign for Children (FFCC) created its annual Champions for Children Congressional Scorecard and an ongoing Bill Tracker.

These tools help us identify, track, and thank those policymakers in Congress who are working to champion and defend our children with their votes and their introduction or co-sponsorship of legislation to improve and protect the lives and well-being of children.

FFCC’s Congressional Scorecard to close out the 115th Congress closely tracked the 22 votes and 143 bills that had a critical or disproportionate impact on children. This analysis revealed a number of important takeaways.

Championing Children is an Electoral Winner

First, making children and families a legislative and campaign priority was a clear winning formula in 2018. In 86 Senate and House races involving Champions and Defenders of Children, only two lost — an astounding 97.7 percent success rate.

In fact, when Champions for Children directly faced opponents with poor records on children’s issues, the Champions won 4–0. To highlight these examples:

  • In Pennsylvania, Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), who was the 115th Congress’s highest-ranking senator on the FFCC Congressional Scorecard, ran a pro-child campaign. His opponent, Rep. Lou Barletta (R-PA), scored among the 60 worst in Congress. Fortunately for children, Sen. Casey cruised to victory by more than 625,000 votes, a 56–43 percent margin. On that same evening, Pennsylvania elected nine Democrats and nine Republicans, including Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), who is one of the leading Republicans in Congress on children’s issues.
  • In Ohio, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), who has been a Champion in every single FFCC Congressional Scorecard since it was created in 2010, took on Rep. Jim Renacci (R-OH), who ranked among the Scorecard’s bottom 100. On an evening when Ohio voters were electing 12 Republicans, including Scorecard Defenders of Children Reps. Steve Stivers (R-OH) and Michael Turner (R-OH), and just 4 Democrats to the House of Representatives and Republicans to every other statewide office, Sen. Brown bucked the trend by a 285,000 vote margin (53–47 percent). Defenders of Children Stivers and Turner also won by wide margins.
  • In Nevada, Champion for Children Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) challenged Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV), a former 2015 Defender of Children who did not qualify in either 2017 or 2018. During the debate over health care reform, Rep. Rosen voted to protect children from devastating Medicaid cuts and attacks on coverage for pre-existing conditions. In contrast, Sen. Heller was the lead sponsor on legislation that would have disproportionately cut children’s health funding in Medicaid by 31 percent over the next decade. Leading with health care and education issues of importance to children, Rep. Rosen took the seat with a 50–45 percent victory.
  • In New Mexico, the Governor’s race featured two members of the House of Representatives: Champion for Children Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM) and Steve Pearce (R-NM), who landed in the Scorecard’s bottom 100. Lujan Grisham made early childhood, education, health care, child poverty, child abuse and neglect, and the family separation of refugees centerpiece issues of her campaign and defeated Pearce by a wide 57–43 percent margin.

The Gender Gap Persists on Children’s Issues

Women in the last Congress were 2.7 times more likely than men to be Champions or Defenders of Children.

That statistic potentially bodes well for the future of children’s issues, as a record number of women were elected to Congress in 2018. That increase included a number of mothers that led to the creation of a Moms Caucus in the House.

Although there were 72 men among the Champions and Defenders, the vast majority of the lowest scoring Members of Congress were men. In fact, 153 of the 160 Senate and House members, or 96 percent, of those ranked among the bottom 30 percent of all lawmakers by the Scorecard were men.

Clearly there is need for a Dads Caucus because education on the policy issues of importance to children is desperately needed by a large number of men in Congress.

The Regional Divide on Children

FFCC’s Congressional Scorecard identifies strong support for children among lawmakers from certain parts of the country. It is unfortunate that lawmakers are least supportive of children from regions where children fare the worst in terms of outcomes for children. Some important regional differences:

  • Western states lead: 40.2 percent of Members of Congress from the West (Alaska, Hawaii, California, Oregon, Washington, and Nevada) were named Champions or Defenders. Every state in this region had fully one-third of its delegation on the list. Moreover, California leads the nation with 21 Champions or Defenders, including the House’s highest-ranking member Rep. Lucile Roybal-Allard (D-CA).
  • Northeastern states are a close 2nd: 33.0 percent of Members of Congress from the Northeast (Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware) were Champions or Defenders. Every single state in the region boasts at least one Champions or Defender. All four legislators from Rhode Island’s delegation were honored.
  • The Midwest represents the middle: 22.8 percent of Members of Congress from the Midwest (Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and Missouri) are Champions or Defenders. Illinois and Michigan lead the way with seven and six members, respectively.
  • Eight Southwest and Plains states have no representatives: 12.6 percent of Members of Congress from the Southwest and Plains states (Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota) were named Champions or Defenders. New Mexico offers an exception, with four of its five delegation members honored. Unfortunately, eight states in this region have no Champions or Defenders.
  • Southeastern delegations scrape the bottom: Only 9.6 percent of Members of Congress from the Southeast (Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Arkansas) were recognized as Champions or Defenders. Florida leads the region with eight, or 27.6 percent, of its delegation. But the other other 11 states combined only have five members, or just 4.7 percent of these delegations, recognized as Champions or Defenders.

When you consider that the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 2018 KIDS COUNT report finds the worst outcomes for children largely in states from the Southwest and Southeast, it is disappointing that more Members of Congress from these regions are not stepping up to address the problems facing their children.

New Mexico stands as the sole outlier among the one-quarter of states with poor outcomes for children, as four of its five delegation members were recognized as Champions for Children. If you remove New Mexico from the group of 13 lowest-ranked states (New Mexico, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, Alaska, Arizona, Oklahoma, Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, West Virginia, Georgia, and South Carolina) in the KIDS COUNT report, the remaining 12 states have only 8.1 percent of their congressional members qualify as Champions or Defenders.

If children have any hope of having better public policy coming out of Congress, we need much stronger support for improving policies impacting children from policymakers at federal, state, and local levels in these states.

The 116th Congress Must Do Better by Our Children

Although there were a few important successes in the 115th Congress, such as the 10-year reauthorization of CHIP, most of the 143 bills in the FFCC Congressional Scorecard that would have improved the lives of children never moved.

In a column by Colby Itkowitz of the Washington Post on the final day of 2018, she documented the year’s dire treatment of children:

The mistreatment or disregard of American and foreign children at the hands of the United States is not a new problem, but 2018 may well be the worst year yet. When issues from guns to immigration to health care to foreign affairs are viewed through the lens of how they affect children, it becomes clear the young are an afterthought when it comes to public policy.

Far too often, lawmakers treat children as “an afterthought.” The public policies and the investments that we make — or fail to make — in the next generation have a profound impact on children. As noted in the First Focus’s Children’s Budget 2018 report, the investment in children as a share of overall federal spending has been declining over the years.

We are failing children in far too many ways. As Itkowitz points out:

Rates of child abuse and neglect are up, largely because of the opioid epidemic, which has resulted in an increase of children placed in foster care. More children and teens are attempting or dying by suicide. Infant mortality rates in the United States remain higher than in other wealthy nations. For the first time in a decade, the rate of uninsured children went up in 2017.

We would add that children are 62 percent more likely to live in poverty than adults in this country. Children deserve better — much better.

Things Advocates for Children Can Do

We urge anyone concerned about the future of our country and the next generation to use our Congressional Scorecard and Bill Tracker to become more aware of the issues that are important to children at the federal level and to hold their policymakers accountable for their votes and their support or opposition to crucial pieces of legislation in Congress.

The 2020 election will be a critical election year for children. We urge child advocates everywhere to:

(1) ask candidates to explain their positions on children’s issues;

(2) use the hashtag #VoteKids on social media to promote candidates’ positions on issues of importance to children; and,

(3) demand that candidates and policymakers prioritize children in their campaigns and their work.

Children do not vote. Children do not make campaign contributions or run political action committees (PACs). Their voices are rarely heard in the halls of Congress, state capitols, or city hall. Children need all the help and support they can get. We must help provide that voice.

For guidance on the policy changes that First Focus Campaign for Children is seeking in 2019–2020, please refer to our Proactive Children’s Agenda for the 116th Congress.