By Mayra E. Alvarez, President of The Children’s Partnership
The United States has long been held up as a beacon of freedom and opportunity. The promise of our country is that every person can pursue their dreams and realize their full potential. But for too many children, that promise is an empty one.
This Mother’s Day, I’m thinking about the challenges my immigrant mother faced raising me and my sisters – doing her best to keep us safe and healthy. While I am so fortunate to not have many of the challenges my mother faced, there are a new set of challenges my little girl will face as she grows up – and that I can’t protect her from alone.
Attacks on Children’s Health & Well-Being
Across the country, a disturbing trend of policies is at work. These policies prioritize individualism over the common good. They put profits ahead of people. They hurt our children’s health. They are an attack on our nation’s children, particularly children from Black, Indigenous, Pacific Islander, Asian American, and Latinx families, children with mixed-race backgrounds, children from immigrant communities, and children who live in poverty.
These attacks take many forms, harming our children’s safety, mental health, education, and hindering growth and opportunity for millions.
Eroding Child Labor Laws Are Harming our Children
One of the most concerning recent developments is the trend towards loosening laws around child labor. People in the U.S. often think of child labor as a relic of the past. It is not. In many states, children as young as 14 are allowed to work long hours in dangerous conditions. There is often little-to-no oversight.
This not only puts children at risk of injury and exploitation, but also undermines their education and future prospects. Migrant children are especially at risk.
Rather than investing in quality schools and robust social safety nets to support families, some politicians are increasingly turning to deregulation. Their laissez-faire policies prioritize corporate profits over the well-being of workers and their families, and compromise the safety of our children.
Guns Are Killing Our Children
Gun violence is another area where children are paying a heavy price in the U.S. Every year, tens of thousands of Americans are killed or injured by firearms. We have already experienced more than 200 mass shootings this year.
Children are particularly vulnerable to gun violence, both as victims and as witnesses. Gun violence trauma has long-lasting, harmful impacts on the physical and mental health of children across the country. It disproportionately impacts Black children and other children of color.
A sense of safety is necessary for children to grow up healthy and thrive. Yet we have no safe places to offer our children. Not churches. Not grocery stores. Not schools. Every community space is a potential mass shooting.
Children are dependent on the adults in their lives to take care of them. Yet despite overwhelming evidence that more guns lead to more shootings, politicians continue to resist common-sense gun safety measures. Over and over it has proven incredibly hard to pass basic measures like background checks and assault weapons bans. The result is a generation of children who are growing up in a world where gun violence is a constant threat. I didn’t have to grow up fearing gun violence in my daily life, and it’s not a future I want for my daughter.
Bigotry is Hurting our Children
Bills targeting transgender and nonbinary children are causing toxic stress that harm a person’s lifetime well-being. Youth who identify as LGBTQ+ are already more likely to face bullying and harassment. Nationally, 75% of LGBTQ+ youth have experienced discrimination based on their gender identity or sexual orientation.
Every day, transgender children and nonbinary children have to navigate a web of biases. They now face a country where laws in each state have been introduced to deny their existence, strip them of rights, and separate them from their families.
Book Bans are Limiting our Children
The attacks on child well-being are not just physical. They are intellectual, as well. We are seeing a disturbing trend of lawmakers and officials banning books and other materials from schools and libraries.
This censorship focuses on books written by people of color and books that help us think deeply about racism and oppression. These book bans deny children the chance to learn about diverse perspectives and cultures. They also undermine our children’s ability to think critically and engage with complex ideas.
Book banning sends the message that certain viewpoints or experiences are too dangerous or controversial to be examined. Fundamentally, this censorship stifles the free exchange of ideas that is the lifeblood of a democratic society.
Together, We Can Uplift our Children
At The Children’s Partnership, we believe all children are worthy and valuable just because they are children. After all, a child is a child.
Ensuring the well-being of every child requires a comprehensive, whole-child approach that addresses the root causes of poverty, violence, and discrimination. It means investing in affordable health care and quality early learning and education, making sure that all families have access to stable housing and nutritious food, and creating a society where everyone has a fair shot at success.
We need political leaders at all levels of government who are committed to the well-being of our children, and who are willing to prioritize the common good over narrow self-interest. We need communities that come together to support families and children and that recognize the value of every child’s life and well-being. And we need individuals who are willing to speak out against injustice and to demand a better future for the next generation.
The attacks on child well-being in the United States are an affront to our shared values of freedom, fairness, and opportunity. They are a betrayal of our most vulnerable community members.
This Mother’s Day, my heart is heavy from reading headlines that betray how much work we need to do to realize the safe, healthy and happy future our children deserve. But we have the power to turn the tide. We can create a society that truly puts people first. Let us stand up for the rights and dignity of all children and work together to build a better future for generations to come.
With hugs from my daughter, I know the fight is worth it. Thank you to all who are in this fight together.