Guest Columnist

Child policy issues are priority one

Jasmin Wessel (from left), Assistant Teacher, gives JT Parrish, 1, a high five as the Rainbow Rompers Classroom, ages 1-2, play in the Motor Skills Room at Carroll Area Child Care Center and Preschool in Carroll on Friday, Jan. 4, 2019. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Jasmin Wessel (from left), Assistant Teacher, gives JT Parrish, 1, a high five as the Rainbow Rompers Classroom, ages 1-2, play in the Motor Skills Room at Carroll Area Child Care Center and Preschool in Carroll on Friday, Jan. 4, 2019. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

Child policy issues have come of age. That is the top-line finding of a poll conducted by Selzer & Co. of active Iowa voters.

Commissioned by Every Child Matters and the Iowa Children’s Policy Coalition, the poll shows that four in five voters (80 percent) consider child well-being to be a high priority for attention during the election, above 12 other issues, including jobs and the economy (68 percent), balancing the budget and reducing the deficit (64 percent), providing economic security for senior citizens (64 percent), fighting terrorists (63 percent), and protecting the environment (61 percent).

More than one-quarter of voters (28 percent) ranked child well-being as one of their top two issues, more than double that for jobs and the economy.

One reason is found in a later question. Two-thirds of voters are skeptical that the future for children will be better than for their parents and only one-third are confident. More than three in five voters view each of the following as major threats to child well-being: poverty, lack of parental time, role models for children, and the costs of higher education.

While voters do not cite poverty itself as a high priority issue, they do child poverty. This also reflects the actual status of children, by far the age group most likely to be poor. Today, one in five young children (19.6 percent of children 0-5) live in poverty, compared to one in nine working-age adults (11.2 percent) and fewer than one in ten seniors (9.2 percent).

Every Child Matters and the Children’s Policy Coalition are working to ensure that candidates for president of all parties present agendas on how they will address child policy issues and concerns — child health, school readiness, school success, child safety and permanence, and economic security. Unlike issues like border security and climate change (also asked in the poll), concerns about child well-being have high-level support from voters of both political parties. In fact, child well-being was the only issue which had double-digit support from Democrats, Republicans, and Independents alike (16 percent or more) as one of the one or two most important issues. No other issue received more than 5 percent.

There is growing consensus across the political spectrum on the need to do something to address child poverty. The Brookings Institute and the American Enterprise Institute convened poverty experts across the political spectrum to produce a wide-ranging set of consensus recommendations for addressing poverty around the themes of security, responsibility and opportunity and including health and education as long-term necessities.

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If the United States is to reduce poverty and improve child well-being, it will have to ensure that all children today — whether living in poor families or neighborhoods or more affluent ones — have access to quality health care, early childhood education, effective schools, decent housing, and opportunities to themselves grow up, be successful and raise their children free from poverty.

At their best, elections raise fundamental social issues and produce debates and dialogues that build public support to address them. There are many important issues that should be addressed in the 2020 presidential election — but it is clear, among these, children’s policy issues must not be left out.

Every Child Matters and the Children’s Policy Coalition are working to make this happen, including asking Iowans to sign a petition asking candidates to develop child policy agendas (www.childrenspolicycoalition.org). Iowa not only can help determine who the candidates for president will be but direct attention to the issues that are most important to Iowa’s and America’s future.

• Charles Bruner is a former state senator from Story County and former director of the Iowa Child and Family Policy Center.

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