The State of Our Children

01/27/2011 02:41 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

I hope you took the time to watch the President's State of the Union speech on Tuesday. There's an interesting graphic on the New York Times website that analyzes the patterns of word use throughout the State of the Union addresses delivered by Presidents going back to 1934. I think it's a very useful analysis, but the words they chose to focus on -- terms like deficit, power, compete, enemies, and terror -- aren't the ones that pique my interest. Last night during President Obama's State of the Union, I was looking for a simpler word: children.

By my count, President Obama used the word child or children 15 times during last night's State of the Union speech. It certainly wasn't the most used word -- but I heard clearly the theme of making our country a better place for our children.

During the speech, the President talked about the impact of teachers on children's lives. He recalled the words of a principal who had revitalized her school so that 97 percent of the students were graduating, and most of them were looking forward to attending college. One student looked at the principal and said, "Thank you, for showing us that we are smart and we can make it." What a gift it must have been for that student to finally know his own potential.

I couldn't agree more that children need that inspiration from their teachers. Yes, just as the President said, teachers can have the greatest impact on a child -- after parents. But for children growing up in the foster care system, who is going to show them that they are loved, that they are special, that they can make it not just in school, but in life?

When he talked about children last night, the President was primarily talking about education as a way of guaranteeing a child's future would be bright and prosperous. And he pointed out the parents' role in that -- "It's family that first instills the love of learning in a child." Again, I agree.

But beyond the obvious need for a strong education, a child needs a strong home. Children don't just need the love of learning; they need to learn about love itself. And it's in the home that a child receives that support and nurturing. Every child needs that, particularly those children who have experienced abuse and neglect and who are still searching for a safe, permanent home.

If we want to succeed as a nation, then we absolutely have to start with our children. Gandhi said it best: "A nation's greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members." We owe it to our children to ensure that our country is the best place in the world to be a child.