McEntee: Candidates need to address children's issues
The statistics are deeply troubling: In 2010, 22 percent of American children were living in poverty. There were 700,000 cases of child abuse or neglect, and 23 percent of all kids were living in homes that couldn't always provide enough food for a healthy, active life.
Voices for Utah Children is mounting a campaign this season making sure every candidate for federal office and the governorship is aware of those numbers and making children's health and well-being a part of their runs for office.
Voices also is asking reporters to make sure they factor children's issues into their coverage, said Voices President Karen Crompton.
Part of what sparked the effort is that Voices' counterpart in Iowa watched the televised Republican presidential primary debates and kept track of the questions.
"There were over 1,000 questions, but only 2 percent dealt with kids," Crompton said. "Other than mentions of education, there's not a lot of discussion about 'what does health care reform mean for kids?' when we're talking about poverty or the impacts of the recession."
To help educate candidates, voters and those of us in the news business, Voices has prepared a comprehensive collection of information related to kids.
To sample just a few, children received 11 percent of the 2010 federal budget. Adult social services got 26 percent, national defense 20 percent, adult Medicare/Medicaid received 22 percent and nearly all the rest was spent on other expenditures, including 5 percent dedicated to interest on the nation's debt.
Here in Utah, 12 percent of children are uninsured, and 17 percent are enrolled in Medicaid/Children's Health Insurance Program. Five percent are on individual plans, and 64 percent have employer-sponsored insurance.
Still, those numbers reduce the discussion about children's well-being or not to charity or welfare. Better, Crompton said, to change the focus of the discussion.
"We talk about roads as an investment, other infrastructure investments, making movies here," she said. "Investing in kids is investing in the infrastructure of our future."
As part of their campaign, Crompton and her colleagues have talked to the campaigns of Gov. Gary Herbert, his opponent Peter Cooke, U.S. Senate hopeful Scott Howell and Mia Love, who's running for the 4th Congressional District seat.
Howell's aides are planning to include a section on children's issues on his website, campaign manager Emily Hollingshead said.
Cooke's manager, Mary Bishop, says the conversation "opened up some avenues of thought they had not realized. We're working on that as we speak."
Herbert's campaign website mentions the importance of education, but does not talk about poverty or other issues affecting children.
Love's communications director issued a statement saying that as a mother herself, she "believes we have a moral obligation not only to care for the present needs of our children, but also to ensure we do not leave them with diminished prospect for the future by saddling them with massive debt and an underperforming economy stealing from our children's future to pay for the present."
It's clear to me that while we Utahns are forever saying, "It's for the children," we still have considerable work to do to make sure all kids are fed, clothed, educated and safe.
That's why Voices for Utah Children has created a binder full of information on the issues to be distributed to inform and inspire newspeople to ask candidates the hard questions. But we're not the only ones voters certainly could ask their own.
As Crompton said, candidates are going to answer only the questions they're asked.
Peg McEntee is a news columnist. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, facebook.com/pegmcentee and Twitter, @pegmcentee.