Jul 07, 2014 | By Carolyn Burstein, NETWORK Communications Fellow
If you are not already familiar with the CDF's nationwide campaign, launched back in 2007, we urge you to check out the its website for national and state-level information -- as well as CDF President Marian Wright Edelman's weekly Child Watch column in the Huffington Post. Not only do I support this ongoing campaign for social justice, but I notice how it dovetails with so many of NETWORK's own initiatives, primarily our efforts to reduce inequality in this country.
The statistics presented at the CDF website are devastating. CDF says that "[n]ationally, 1 in 3 Black and 1 in 6 Latino boys born in 2001 are at risk of imprisonment during their lifetime." This horrifying trajectory is endangering children at younger and younger ages, which not only leads to marginalized lives but also premature deaths. One of the many reasons for this outcome is that states spend three times as much money per prisoner as per public school student. What does that say about our country's priorities?
CDF says that its vision is to "reduce detention and incarceration by increasing preventive supports and services children need, such as access to quality early childhood development and education services and accessible, comprehensive health and mental health coverage." If the universal preschool proposal, one of the president's key initiatives in his 2015 Budget is passed (not likely, say most), that should serve as a major response to CDF's vision.
Of course, access to comprehensive healthcare is extended through the Affordable Care Act, which NETWORK strongly supported and continues to work on, especially in the 24 states that have not chosen to extend Medicaid to all its citizens. In this context, it is important to remember that access to coverage does not guarantee enrollment in coverage. Lack of effective healthcare jeopardizes both children's education and their future.
Campaign summits have been held in numerous states since 2007 during which participants formulate action plans that focus on issues that are contributing to the crisis in their respective states. For example, several states, including Massachusetts, have addressed the problem of zero tolerance and other school discipline policies that tend to funnel children into the states' criminal justice system. Recently (2013-14) schools have been watching new school discipline policies in Buffalo, NY and Denver, CO as "best practices." The summits help the states to share promising approaches from other areas of the country.
CDF reminds us of the cruel facts of child poverty, a leading contributor to pervasive inequality.
Another major problem that CDF describes is rampant substance abuse. As we can see from the preceding facts as well as those listed below, we are dealing with disconnected youth who often lack a decent education or high school degree, lack job skills and have no social support systems or mentors. These are the youth who often resort to self-destructive acts, abusing drugs, tobacco and alcohol. Even when they seek help it is often not forthcoming because treatment is in short supply. Only about 10% of youth who seek help for a disorder receive treatment.
Lack of investments deprives children of critical support during their formative years. We already noted the disparity between funds spent on prisoners vs. children in schools. CDF provides us with additional significant facts:
Many vulnerable children face special risks. Among those risks are the following:
We can readily see how the few facts listed above (there are many more on the CDF website as well as photos, multimedia presentations and personal stories) impinge on so many areas where we at NETWORK are working in earnest:
And many more! The foregoing information from CDF should give everyone some new data to help in the ongoing effort to influence legislation and should also provide you with some new social justice friends in CDF's nationwide network.
Perhaps the ultimate killer fact (on a global level) was produced by the charitable NGO, Oxfam, a few weeks ago (and quoted by the IMF), whereby the organization estimates that the 85 richest people in the world own as much wealth as the bottom half (3.5 billion people) of the global population. What an unsettling contrast! How can such a heavily skewed distribution of wealth be morally justified? And based on its own calculations, the magazine Forbes concluded that only 67 billionaires owned as much as the world's poorest half. As it happens, neither Oxfam nor CDF nor NETWORK call for a global equalization of wealth – Oxfam may be more concerned about plutocracy than CDF, but since the Supreme Court's 2010 decision in Citizen's United v. FEC, NETWORK is also concerned about this issue. But for CDF and NETWORK, a strengthening of social protection through an improved safety-net; an acknowledgement of and an end to racism; and critical investments, supports and services needed for the most vulnerable populations are the sine qua non of access to equal opportunity.
As CDF says in one of its policy priorities, "too many children live in poverty and suffer from preventable illnesses, neglect, abuse inadequate education and violence." I agree with CDF and one of the famous lines of Mahatma Gandhi: "Poverty is the worst form of violence."