Marian Wright Edelman, my friend and founder of the Children's Defense Fund, says it best: "If we don't stand up for children, then we don't stand for much."
In my 35 years as an advocate for children and families, I have never met a child without potential. But I've met plenty of children growing up in extraordinary hardship and lacking the basic tools they need to succeed. Even in the United States, the wealthiest nation in the world, 13 million children still live in poverty and 5 million live in extreme poverty. Too many children are expected to overcome these hurdles, become productive citizens, and compete in a modern global economy without the benefit of sound schooling, decent housing, proper nutrition, and adequate health care.
This is not just an economic problem. It's a moral outrage.
I've been working to better the lives of children for 35 years, and the future of America's children will be a centerpiece of my presidency. The issue is personal for me. My own mother struggled through a childhood of neglect to give her own children the opportunities she never had. My mother taught me at a young age that all children deserve the chance to live up to their God-given potential and make the most of their lives.
For the better part of my professional and public life, I've focused on issues like children's health care, education, foster care and adoption, child care, and education -- all of which have a direct impact on children and their families. I took an extra year in law school to study child development and to work on legal assistance for the poor. Then I went to work for the Children's Defense Fund, where I represented abused and neglected children and children with disabilities. In Arkansas, I was tasked with leading an effort to reform the state's education system, then ranked near the bottom. I started a special program for mothers of pre-schoolers to get their kids ready for kindergarten, and also worked on reforming the state's rural health care system, which helped many poor families and their children. As First Lady, I pushed the effort to expand Head Start and help create Early Head Start, to reform our nation's foster care and adoption systems, and to strengthen child care across the United States.
After universal health care didn't succeed, I helped create the Children's Health Insurance Program, which now covers six million children in need.
Running for president has only strengthened my resolve to find solutions to problems affecting our children. In southern Ohio today, I announced a plan to take on child poverty -- and to end the moral outrage of children living in such neglect.
I have two bold goals: First, we're going to end child hunger by 2012. It's a national crisis and a national disgrace that more than 12 million children in America go hungry every day. I will do everything I can to reduce that number to zero.
Second, we're going to cut child poverty in half by 2020, lifting more than 6 million children above the poverty line.
You can learn the full details of my plan on my website.
These goals are ambitious, but we can -- and must -- achieve them. Child poverty is an affront to our most basic American values. Indeed, our treatment of children is a measure of our decency, compassion, and humanity as a people. It's time for the best of America -- our talent, innovative spirit, and potential for progress -- to be reflected in our children. The children of America are a national treasure -- and a national responsibility. Securing their future will be at the heart of my presidency.