Over the past month, the presidential candidates have engaged in three debates, and the press and political pundits have spent countless hours debating who came out on top. Both candidates engaged in heated attacks regarding their opponent's record on issues ranging from military readiness to how best to encourage economic growth. What was missing from every conversation, however, was the connection between addressing these issues and investing in the one solution that impacts these critical issues and many others: ensuring that every child in America has the opportunity to be raised in a healthy, nurturing, supportive environment.
Further, neither candidate has paid attention to the fact that the United States consistently scores at, or near the bottom, in international comparisons of child well being. These reports rank the US well below our less affluent allies such as Greece, Spain and even the Czech Republic. The lack of attention being paid to improving the well being of our children has a direct correlation to the lack of improvement in an array of outcomes, including education, criminal justice, and health.
According to the most recent brain research, abuse and neglect of children in the early years negatively impacts the formation of pathways in the brain that are essential to later learning and growth. By focusing our attention on issues such as the economy and military readiness and not adequately addressing these issues in the early years, it's as if the country was engaged in a massive effort to expand the output of our farms, without building the highway infrastructure necessary to get the newly produced goods to market.
The good news is that there are proven, cost effective interventions that improve child well being. Home visiting programs that provide parenting support and education such as Healthy Families America are shown to improve both child and parental well being, leading to long term improvements in a child's ability to learn and process information. In fact, these programs have been proven so effective that funding for them was included in health reform.
There is still much to be done, however. The United States remains the wealthiest country in the world, yet one in five children lives in poverty. Additionally, we continue to focus our resources on prosecution rather than prevention when addressing child abuse and neglect. Finally, there continues to be a failure by the candidates and lawmakers at all levels to have a meaningful discussion regarding child well being. On November 6, the country will go to the polls to elect the next President; whoever is elected, he will set the tone for the nation's focus for the next four years. However, he will not work in a vacuum.
It's past time for all children in this country to be guaranteed a right to a nurturing, stable upbringing, free from abuse and neglect. It's up to those of us who care about children and families to provide a voice for those who cannot speak for themselves. I ask you to join me in calling on the next President to provide a comprehensive plan to improve the well being of our nation's children. In so doing, whoever wins in November will also provide a long term blueprint to ensuring the country's well being. Our current generation of children is our next generation of writers, teachers, and yes, presidential candidates.