Children Are On the Ballot

Children do not vote. And, if politicians are not listening and are taking actions contrary to the needs of children, voters must hold them accountable for their actions or inactions or we will fail our kids and our future.
11/02/2014 08:02 am ET Updated Jan 01, 2015

Children do not vote. And, they do not have Super PACs that contribute money to political campaigns. As a result, they count on us to be their voices with policymakers at the federal, state, and local levels of government.

And, if politicians are not listening and are taking actions contrary to the needs of children, voters must hold them accountable for their actions or inactions or we will fail our kids and our future.

Several years ago, political consultant Frank Luntz did some important work on this problem for the children's advocacy community. He conducted several focus groups, including one in Des Moines, Iowa, and asked a cross-section of voters what their priorities were. Voters quickly spoke up and mentioned an array of priorities that came to mind, including Iraq, Afghanistan, jobs, Medicare, Social Security, immigration, pensions, roads, and even the inconvenience of talking off shoes for airport screenings. With the exception of one person that mentioned education, nobody else spoke up to mention children's issues as a priority.

Therefore, Luntz asked the focus group members to raise their hands if they were a parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle, or were working in a profession that dealt with children. The vast majority of people in the room raised their hand, so he asked them why they didn't care about kids.

Fireworks ensued with some people jumping out of their chairs to point their finger at Luntz and challenge his accusation that they didn't care. They forcefully asserted that children were a priority, and some argued that children were, in fact, their #1 priority.

Luntz responded that they only have themselves to blame for his accusation since, with only one exception, they did not mention kids when he asked them for their priorities. In fact, some of the focus group members that were most angry had mentioned several top priorities other than children.

In the ensuring discussion, it was apparent that voters, even those whose top priority were children, often failed to recognize that public policy and government was important to kids. But it so often is and that lack of awareness can be detrimental to kids, as policymakers far too often neglect their needs.

Without adequately funded education, nutrition, housing, early education and care, and other basic supports, the foundation of children's well-being is at risk. When children grow up without adequate supports, they are less able to support themselves and to contribute to economic growth as adults...A continuous decline in federal support for children over the next decade bodes poorly for their future or the future of the nation.

However, on the ballot this year are campaigns for school board, city council, governor, state legislator, congressman, and senator that will impact the education, health, nutrition, poverty, child abuse and neglect, juvenile justice, and housing needs of children at all ages - from infants in early childhood programs to school-age children to youth transitioning to adulthood.

In the Luntz focus group, voters did think about the importance of education to children but most only thought about it as a local issue. However, in most states, the majority of funding to public schools actually comes from the state government and policy -- both good and bad -- is created by all three levels of government and imposed upon public schools. For example, if you are deeply concerned about adequate funding and the over testing of children in our public schools, then you should care and find out the positions of politicians who are running for office at every level of government.

One positive trend is that education has become a major issue in a number of races across the country. Candidates on both sides of the aisle are raising issues related to the adequacy and equity of school funding, pre-K and other early education programs, the quantity and use of standardized testing, curriculum including the adoption of Common Core standards, teacher salaries, preparedness, and quality, school safety, high school graduation rates, etc.

Other examples of cases where children's issues have been raised include early childhood, child abuse and neglect, and a ballot initiative that would establish permanent funding for Children's Councils in Florida counties have been raised in other races.

And in Arizona, advocates have expressed frustration that children are falsely being used to push a ballot measure, Proposition 122, which would attempt to give the state authority to undermine federal laws. Despite the claim, children would not benefit from the measure and the Children's Action Alliance argues that the effort is a "dangerous distraction to the real work Arizona needs to sustain our new commitment to child safety."

But, by and large, advocates in states across the country, including those in Florida and Iowa, are disappointed that candidates are not discussing children's issues in their campaigns and public statements.

In fact, beyond education, children have largely been forgotten and ignored in the election, despite the fact that the public strongly supports protecting children and wants to see greater investments in children.

But who, for example, is championing and offering a plan to address the fact that 1 in 5 children are living in poverty in our nation and that 1.3 million school children are homeless? These are national tragedies that the vast majority of our nation's political leaders are largely ignoring.

As Children's Defense Fund President Marian Wright Edelman writes:

Ending child poverty in the world's largest economy should be a no-brainer. Children cannot afford the burden of poverty. And our nation cannot afford the costly economic and moral burden of child poverty. Child poverty costs our nation half a trillion dollars every year in lost productivity and extra health and criminal justice costs.

As a country, we cannot hope to build a strong competitive future if we continue to allow millions of children to grow up poor and without the health care and education and other supports those of us who are more privileged enjoy.

If you care about children and their needs, become informed as to how the candidates in your district are addressing children's issue and share that information with your friends and family. On social media, we are using the hashtag #Vote4Kids about issues on the ballot of importance to children.

And, when you enter the voting booth on Tuesday, please think about children and reward those politicians that make kids a priority. Our nation's children are counting on us.