With all the focus on taxes and the national debt this election season, other issues vital for the healthy growth and development of children are being largely ignored by the candidates. In the first presidential debate, the candidates barely mentioned early education, K-12 education or the impact of health reform on children. Topics such as juvenile justice, child abuse and neglect, and protecting our environment and our children’s bodies from harmful pollutants were avoided entirely.
As a child advocate, a pediatrician and a father, I plan to Vote for Kids this election, but to do that, I need to hear more about children and families from all of the candidates. I know I’m not the only one planning to focus on children – most of you are, too. In a recent national poll, 82 percent of us responded that candidates’ positions on children’s issues will affect our votes.
We need to know how our leaders plan to improve our children’s health, education, safety and economic security, because children will one day be the economic engines of our state and our country, and early investments will save taxpayers big money down the road.
Consider that in North Carolina: one in nine children lacks health insurance coverage; one third of children ages 10-17 are overweight or obese; less than one-third of eligible, low-income children receive high-quality early learning opportunities through N.C. Pre-K; one in 10 children lives in a household that earns less than half the federal poverty level ($11,500 for a family of four); 16- and 17-year-olds, even those accused of minor misdemeanors, are automatically tried as adults in our state’s criminal justice system; and that 19 children died last year as a result of child abuse or neglect.
As parents, grandparents, coaches, teachers and preachers, we need to call on the candidates running for public office – from our local state representatives to President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney – to tell us how they stand on the issues that affect our children every day. Here are some key questions that candidates should be addressing as they campaign:
• What are your plans for sustaining and improving health insurance coverage for North Carolina’s children?
• What will you do to restore North Carolina’s position as a leader in the early education of our children and youth?
• What are your plans to ensure that all students in North Carolina graduate from high-school on-time and ready to succeed?
• What is your plan to make college affordable for all young people in the state?
• What is the role of government and the community in preventing or detecting child abuse and neglect?
• How can government help eliminate school violence?
• What policies do you support to ensure that more troubled teens have access to preventive services, quality education and other community supports to avoid or minimize interaction with the criminal justice system?
• What public policies are appropriate to make sure that struggling, working families have the tools they need to succeed and provide for their children?
• What investments will you make to ensure that all children have the opportunity to be financially stable adults?
• How will you address child poverty?
There is still time to influence what the candidates talk about during the remainder of this election season, but we all need to work fast. Early voting and same-day registration starts Thursday, and the polls close on Nov. 6. So start calling and emailing candidates. Tweet them these questions. Stand up at town hall meetings and demand that the candidates speak to the issues that affect children and families.
Children can’t vote, so it’s up to us – the adults who love them – to represent their interests. As we’ve seen so far this election season, if we don’t speak up, no one will.
Peter J. Morris, M.D., is chair of the board of directors of Action for Children N.C.