Co-authored by Sean Palfrey MD, Professor of Pediatrics, Boston University Medical School
Children and youth could not vote in this past election. But they watched it. They saw ugliness and discord. They were exposed to words and thoughts their parents work diligently to keep from them. Now that the contentious election is over, the big question is ---"What will the new government mean for babies, school children, adolescents and young adults?"
We are pediatricians who are devoted to supporting parents and communities in protecting children from harm. We aim to promote children's health and well-being. Much of that protection and promotion depends on local, state and federal commitment to social, nutritional, educational and health programs. Over the years, these government programs have contributed to stunning improvements in children's health and development.
We watch now with alarm the shape that the new administration is taking - a shape that dismisses children and youth and puts many of our children at hazard. The recent appointment of Steven Bannon as Presidential advisor and the proposed nomination of Jeffrey Sessions for US Attorney General signal a lack of understanding by the President-elect about the fundamental supports, protections and safeguards our children need.
Even before the inauguration of Donald Trump, we are seeing the effects on children of the divisive, disagreeable disrespectful, violent, racist, xenophobic and anti-gay taunts that typified this difficult year. They are taking in what is happening around our country. Black boys and girls are questioning if they will see their 18th birthday. Newly immigrated children are hearing taunts and barbs from their classmates. Swastikas and Confederate flags are sending the message to children and youth that they are unloved, unwanted and unworthy. One 15 year old autistic boy even asked his mother recently "if President Trump plans to exterminate me?"
Where is the Republican party of family values, of the worthiness of every individual, of pride in our children?
Previous Republican Presidents have emphasized the importance of children and youth. Notably, President Theodore Roosevelt called the first White House Conference on Children in 1909. From that conference came strong child welfare legislation, anti-child labor regulations and the ground work for the creation of the Children's Bureau.
Herbert Hoover's Administration produced the Children's Charter, that called for: a secure home and love for every child, full preparation for birth, health protection from birth through adolescence, safe and healthy school environments, protection against danger and opportunities for play and recreation, early identification of disabilities and services to meet children's needs, safeguards for families against socioeconomic hazards, fair treatment for children and adolescents in conflict with society, parenting education and preparation for adult roles. The charter ends with the statement: "For EVERY child these rights, regardless of race, or color, or situation, wherever he may live under the protection of the American flag."
The American Academy of Pediatrics reflects these goals and more in its Blueprint for Children: How the Next President Can Build a Foundation for a Healthy Future, which is a comprehensive plan for the federal government to invest in, coordinate, and focus on four key themes: promoting healthy children, supporting secure families, building strong communities, and ensuring that the United States is a leading nation for children. We urge the Trump Administration to take seriously these suggests for children.
And, like Herbert Hoover, when we say children, we mean all children. We mean girls and boys, LBGTQ youth, white, Black, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, other minorities and mixed race children and youth. We mean the children of middle class and of poor families, old established and newly arrived families, and families from all religious and ethnic backgrounds. Our children must be valued and taught to value others. We are one nation, one strong, great nation and our children and youth are the ones who will sustain us and make sure that our country leads into the future.