How well this nation takes care of and prepares its children will define the long-term quality of life — culturally, socially, economically — in America, our ability to compete globally, and how we rank overall as a civil society on the world stage. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it.
And yet, have you heard one peep, one idea, one proposal in the dialogue among candidates vying to become President of the United States in 2012 on this topic? Not only that, no matter where you live, you need to examine the platform of the candidates seeking public office, particularly for the U.S. Senate or Congress, to determine where the welfare and well-being of our children rank on their list of policy priorities.
Among the questions raised, we must certainly ask: What child policies and initiatives could make a real difference in the well-being of the nation in the 21st century?
While some things may be happening at some level, they aren’t nearly enough. We have a long way to go in addressing the needs of our children and youth, particularly those who are most vulnerable, in some very critical areas — education, health, environmental (physical and mental), before we can feel confident about the quality of life in this nation, now, next year, or in the years to come.
Then there are the more obvious areas where we see evidence of on a daily basis: Substance abuse from marijuana to alcohol, prescription drugs, and various substances in between. Juvenile crime is much too high, from bullying to petty theft to homicides; and then we have the other issues around premature sexuality that not only includes the increase in sexually transmitted diseases, HIV/AIDS diagnoses continue to rise, but also far too many teen pregnancies.
How will we ever expect to truly complete at any level — nationally or globally — if the future for a significant percentage of our children and youth has been compromised by poor education, poor healthcare, and self-destructive practices and habits?
We have economic development policies at all levels of government. Politician’s present elaborate economic development plans to improve the downtown and suburban landscapes. We are often ready and willing to do what it takes to move such plans forward, often involving national and state collaboration and funding.
Yet, we do not have any children and youth policies at the national level, and likely very few at the city, county, or state levels of government. Where are the policies and grand plans for making America the greatest nation on earth when it comes to our children and youth?
Where are the plans for ensuring a quality education for disadvantaged children and youth?
Where is the plan that ensures that our youth and teens have programs and activities to enrich their development during out-of-school time during the school year, on weekends and in the summer months? We need to be providing positive alternatives to smoking, drinking, and other destructive behavior.
If we fail to focus on what our children are doing in and out of school, greatness at the community, city, state, regional, or national level will continue to escape us, no matter how many great buildings we build, how many space stations we supply, or how much green space we preserve.
We do not need to look very far before it becomes clear that we have a lot of work to do when it comes to taking care of and preparing our children for the their future and the future of our nation.
But where is the discussion in the public policy arena? Where do our children fit into the national agenda?