02/01/2012 08:08 pm ET Updated Apr 02, 2012

Eliminating Childhood Poverty in America

This post is part of a series on childhood poverty in the United States in partnership with Save the Children's U.S. Programs and Julianne Moore. To learn more go to

As an early educator, my wife Judy devoted her career to helping provide children with the opportunities, care, and support they deserve. Before she passed away in 1997, Judy had already impacted the lives of so many children in Prince George's County, Maryland, where she oversaw the county's early education programs.

Judy recognized, as I do, that when we provide children with opportunities at an early age, it makes a tremendous difference throughout their lives. Conversely, those children unable to access high quality early education or who lack proper medical care, dental care, and nutrition risk falling behind their peers and missing chances at success later on.

Supporting the health and education of the youngest Americans has never been more important. With the recession came an alarming rise in the number of children facing poverty in this country. Today, nearly one in four children lives at or below the poverty line. For these children, poverty brings with it a host of challenges not easily overcome, as of right now we are seeing a parallel between poverty and higher rates of obesity and poor performance in reading and math by the time they reach middle school.

It is up to all of us, working together in our communities, to help families access early education and the critical services -- like health care, nutrition awareness, and others -- that will keep these children on the path to opportunity and future success. One of the most effective ways to do so is by bringing all of these services together under one roof. A one-stop shop that provides social services to low-income families can address some of the delivery and cost challenges as well as make it easier for parents to access the tools they need to get ahead and help their children stay healthy and prepared for the future.

That's why in Maryland we now have twenty-five "Judy Centers," which provide full-day, full-year early education as well as social services to at-risk children and their families, including day care, health screenings, nutrition counseling, and dental checkups. In such a way we can break down barriers to integration of services and better coordinate their delivery to reach more families. According to evaluations by the Maryland State Department of Education, those children participating in Judy Center programs scored higher on kindergarten readiness in several metrics. That's why I've introduced the Full Service Community Schools Act in Congress to help replicate the successes we've had in Maryland across the country.

But keeping children out of poverty in America will take more than just local community efforts. We need national policies that provide more opportunities for low-income families and put more Americans on a pathway out of poverty. This means creating quality jobs, investing in good schools, and helping more of our people reach the middle class.

That is what House Democrats' Make It In America plan is all about. If we can come together to invest in education, innovation, and manufacturing, we can create new opportunities for middle-class jobs and, in the process, breathe new life into the American Dream.

At the same time, we have to be careful not to eliminate vital programs proven to help reduce the early learning gap or provide healthy meals to children. In our effort to achieve much-needed deficit reduction, it would be a disaster if we were to do so at the expense of those who need our help the most.

Ultimately, reducing -- and someday eliminating -- childhood poverty in America must involve government, the private sector, and non-profits working together in partnership. I commend the work being done by groups like Save the Children that are so active in our communities around the country.

Working together, we can help more of our children and their families make it in America.