The Challenges Facing America’s Children

I spend a fair amount of time thinking about the plight of America’s children. Prior to moving in to the current administrative gig I conducted extensive research on the subject of child abuse and the ineffective criminal punishment of those harming children. I presented several papers on the topic. In this and other ways many of America’s kids are being shortchanged.

Here are a few things I want you to think about:

  • A 19 year old gunman killed 17 high school students in Florida two weeks ago. This is, unfortunately, nothing new. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at least 1,300 American children under 17 years of age die from gunshot wounds and another 5,800 are injured each year. And yes, I know some of those are self-inflicted wounds. That doesn’t change the statistic.
  • At the end of last year there were approximately 437,500 children living in foster care in the United States. Parents’ drug abuse was the causal factor in more than 1/3 of the cases.
  • About 41% of American children live in low-income households and about 19% are poor. Even though children under the age of 18 comprise only 23% of the country’s population, 32% of Americans living in poverty are children. Children living in poverty have higher absenteeism rates at school, perform more poorly than their wealthier peers, and are seven times more likely to drop out of school altogether.
  • Similarly, research indicates that although we have gradually addressed the education gap between white and minority kids, the gap between poor and wealthier kids has grown. In other words, poor children who are often in families with poor and uneducated parents have less access to quality education and college, so their poor social status is part of a vicious cycle and rising above it is very difficult.
  • America’s juvenile justice system treats minority children much differently than it does white kids. Black kids are much more likely incarcerated than white kids. Black kids are more than twice as likely to be arrested.
  • I’ve previously written about our son who, as a teenager, overcame substance abuse problems and is now a substance abuse counselor. He has buried at least a dozen young friends who were unable to overcome their chemical dependency. Hundreds of teenagers die each year from drug overdose and tens of thousands begin experimenting with drugs that lead to addiction and eventual death.
  • The number of obese American children has tripled since the 1970’s; today 1/5 of our children are obese. This obviously affects the child’s health and life. It also has a future impact on America’s healthcare system. Research predicts that 57% of today’s kids will be obese by the time they reach 35 years of age.
  • Approximately 700,000 American children are abuse victims each year and in 2015, the last year for which data were available, 1,670 died from abuse and neglect.
  • More than 2,000,000 children are covered by Child Protection Services each year.
  • In the five years between 2010 and 2015 the number of teenagers suffering from depression jumped 33%, the number of teens attempting suicide increased 23%, and the number actually committing suicide jumped by 31%. Determining cause and effect is almost impossible, but researchers found a positive correlation between smart phone ownership and computer time and depression among children.

Then add to these sad statistics the other fears young people face in today’s world. A poll taken last year found that 82% of Americans between 15-21 years of age were afraid because of the increase in terrorism, 59% said they were worried about climate change, and about 40% said the world is becoming a worse place.

I have only a couple of points to make:

  1. I absolutely understand how people can oppose abortion and that is one topic I will never explore in my blog because it is too visceral and there is really no compromise on the topic. I understand those who oppose abortion and I support their right to protest it. However, I sincerely hope the people I see regularly protesting outside Planned Parenthood here in town also spend equal time  protesting in front of the offices of their local, state, and federal representatives who could actually improve the lives of those children who have been born.
  2. As I’ve argued previously, major changes in government policy are more likely to occur when a group is organized and has resources needed to lobby members of legislatures and bureaucrats. Children are obviously not organized and have no money to use for lobbying, so their interests are often forgotten.

I wish we could focus on solutions to these and countless other issues facing America’s children and society as a whole, but it seems that our governing officials are more interested in scoring political points than in helping those in need. Or they are caught up in so many scandals that governing is impossible.

Just once I’d like to read a headline about the decline of child poverty rather than about a governor who had an extra-marital affair, or a headline heralding the improved education levels of children living in poverty rather than one about a $20 billion wall, or one about increased funding for substance abuse treatment for teenagers instead of a headline about children being massacred in their school, or a headline championing extremely harsh penalties for child abusers rather than the latest news on Monica Lewinsky (is it just me or does it seem that there are there a lot of men in political power who cannot control their zippers?).

As the tag line for my blog says, I am a dreamer.