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Kids and Families and the First 100 Days

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During his first 100 days in office, President Barack Obama and Congress have taken critically important steps to improve the lives of America's disadvantaged children and families who are too often overlooked. Through tax policy, healthcare expansions, stimulus spending, improvements to unemployment insurance, and new funding for pre-school, child care and education, we have witnessed a wave of family-strengthening actions.

Among them, the expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program will mean millions more children in low-income families will receive timely healthcare, the Homeownership Affordability and Stability Plan will help homeowners avoid foreclosure, and the administration's commitment to tackling concentrated poverty, including investments in rural America and the Promise Neighborhood Initiative, will provide much-needed services and supports to families in struggling communities.
We are also seeing a renewed commitment to use performance measures and data to guide federal policy; this is an extremely welcome development that will pay dividends by ensuring that taxpayers funds are spent effectively and that those most in need are receiving assistance.

The Casey Foundation and many others involved in developing smart responses to poverty are pleased with the steps underway by federal policy makers. Many of these steps reflect some of the lessons, hard data, and experiences we and other nonprofit institutions have gleaned working with families, communities, and public systems.

The new focus in Washington reflects an understanding that we must embrace a two-generational approach to reducing poverty by both improving the economic situation of low-income parents and preparing their children for success as adults.

While the progress is real, much work remains to implement successful strategies that we believe can level the playing field for children and families living on the economic margin.

Looking forward, we hope Congress can work in a bipartisan fashion to create more jobs with better wages and benefits that meet the needs of families; support increases in wages, tax credits, and programs that build assets and savings; and incorporate programs and policies that provide children and teens with the opportunities and incentives to stay in school, and ultimately become successful adults.

Additionally, too many children spend time in foster care each year; far too many are left without the permanent, supportive family connections that every child needs to grow into a healthy and productive adult. The federal government should look to rebuild the nation's child welfare system and begin offering children the lifelong families they deserve by changing policy to promote permanence and child well-being.

Change is also needed in the nation's juvenile justice system, which is littered with ill-conceived strategies that unnecessarily confine young people, exposing them to danger, diminishing their future prospects, increasing crime, and wasting hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars. We need to end the counterproductive over-reliance on expensive incarceration and detention and redirect resources into proven strategies that cost less, enhance public safety, and increase the odds of success of young people involved in the juvenile courts. Congress has the chance to address these and other issues this year when it reauthorizes the federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act.

Finally, Congress must continue to base decisions on good information, just as we and other foundations use sound data to evaluate policies and advocate for change. Ensuring that the nation has the best information to inform policy decisions affecting children and families means updating the U.S. poverty measure; improving the availability, timeliness, and quality of state and local data on child well-being; supporting efforts to collect reliable data from birth and death certificates; and fully funding and properly managing the 2010 Census.

We can celebrate that our nation is making progress on behalf of vulnerable children and families across the United States. But this work is only just beginning.

Michael Laracy is the Public Policy Coordinator of the Annie. E. Casey Foundation