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CDF advocates say leave no child behind.

Lobbyists following U.S. bishops' campaign

WASHINGTON - Every hour last year the United States spent $33.7 million on national defense and $2.9 million on education. It devoted $23.6 million to the national debt and $1.8 million to children's health.

With comparisons like that, extracted from a 1992 report by the Children's Defense Fund, there is little wonder that this country is so far behind much of the world in most indicators of children's well-being. But suddenly, with a new president and a new Congress, the signs are all pointing in the opposite direction. Children are now a hot political ticket.

Although cautious in public comments, many children's advocates privately cheered last month when President Clinton pledged to fully fund three of the most critical elements of early childhood assistance: immunization, childcare and nutrition programs.

And, perhaps even more far-reaching, Clinton supported an earned-income tax credit that would lift parents who work full time above the poverty level. These investments, said Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children's Defense Fund, "go a long way toward ensuring that no child will be left behind."

That happens to have been the theme - "Leave No Child Behind" - of the fund's 20th-anniversary national conference this week, with big guns in the children's movement sounding the themes. Among participants: top educators, journalists and "surprise guests."

There is hardly any secret who the mystery persons might be. Hillary Rodham Clinton, a leading child advocate, was chairwoman of the children's advocacy group before she was succeeded by Donna Shalala, now secretary of Health and Human Services.

Shalala and President and Mrs. Clinton are likely to make appearances. A likely place is the National Cathedral, where an interfaith service was scheduled for March 11 to celebrate the teaching that all people are called upon to show special concern for children.

Clearly, the president, who asked for an immediate increase in funding for Head Start and child-immunization programs, has received that message. And so has Congress, with many of the more than 100 new members recently declaring that both the preschool and immunization programs ought to be primary issues this year.

There may be opposition in Congress to specifics of the Clinton economic plan, but he is preaching to the committed on children's issues. "Clinton's initiatives are long overdue. He's serious and he's committed and I'm delighted," said Rep. Pat Schroeder, a Colorado Democrat.

Sharon Daly, director of government and community affairs for the CDF, said: "We now have a president and Congress who believe that government can and should be an active player in making changes for children."

Daly, who recently moved to the advocacy group from the U.S. Catholic Conference, where she was director of domestic social development, identified children as one of the most vulnerable groups in society. "They have a special call on everyone in it, "she said. "And that means not just charity, but justice."

The March 11-13 conference was to include lobbying on Capitol Hill for the CDF agenda, which closely mirrors the president's. The CDF lobbyists will follow closely another determined child-advocacy group: the Catholic church.

Several hundred church social-action directors and Catholic charity leaders descended on members of Congress and their staffs last week to push for economic support and health care for poor families (see accompanying story). This was part of a U.S. bishops' campaign of "putting children and families first." It includes:

* Tax credits for working families.

* A basic minimum child-support benefit.

* Welfare reform that does not, while moving parents into the work force, penalize children.

* And universal access to health care. The U.S. Catholic Conference in its 1992 Parish Resources Manual put it simply: "We seek to shape a society - and a world - with a clear priority for families and children in need."

The focus on children is none too soon, advocacy groups say. According to the CDF:

* One in five children - 14.3 million - lived in poverty in 1991, the highest number since 1965. The majority of poor children are white, most have a parent who works, and most live outside large cities.

* American children suffered more than five times the number of measles cases in 1991 that they did in 1983, as a result of low immunization rates.

* A child is reported abused or neglected in America every 13 seconds. Every three hours a child is killed by a handgun.

* Many families with children lost ground in the 1980s. The median income of young families with children (headed by someone younger than 30) fell by 26 percent between 1973 and 1989.

Every American needs to ask why there are more poor children in rich America than there are citizens in famine-stricken Somalia Edelman said in December. What Edelman wants is not just the government's signing on to the children's issues but a nationwide movement, rooted deeply in community groups and churches, Daly said.

The task seems enormous. Not only do children need food, medicine and education, but their parents need better homes, higher incomes and safer neighborhoods.

Daly seems undaunted.

"There's not too much to be done if everybody does it," she said.
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Title Annotation:Children's Defense Fund
Author:Clancy, Paul
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Mar 12, 1993
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