NASW took part in a joint effort to highlight the needs of America's children and families with the national "Step Up for Kids Day" on September 16.
NASW was among the sponsors of a national press conference in Washington, DC, hosted by Every Child Matters.
NASW member Michael Petit is president and founder of the organization. He and other supporters called upon senators John McCain and Barack Obama to address the needs of children during their presidential campaigns.
"The plight of millions of American children living on the knife's edge today may be the single biggest issue that is not getting the attention it deserves in the 2008 election and related coverage," said Petit, author of "Homeland Insecurity."
"Research is clear that the negative factors now weighing down on these at-risk kids will require billions of taxpayer dollars to address," he said. "If we instead had a comprehensive national policy to protect our children, those wasted federal tax dollars could be used in a constructive way to promote good health, healthy child development, and stronger communities." Petit noted that a recent UNICEF report found that the U.S. ranks 20th in child well-being among the 21 rich democracies.
NASW Executive Director Elizabeth J. Clark was a speaker at the press conference. She cited how important it is for the federal government to invest in child assistance programs so that millions of children will not have to wonder "where they will eat again, where they will sleep, when they will go to school and if they will be able to go to the doctor if they are sick."
Clark noted that she has met with many social workers who have dedicated their careers to serving those living in poverty, and in particular, children at risk.
"We know that 13 million children live below the poverty line," Clark said. "We also know that another 16 million children are living in low-income households."
Clark said she has witnessed firsthand how families and children in some of the nation's poorest areas live. "I was struck by the enormous needs of the rural poor, who are nearly invisible to society because they are hidden from us," she said. "We don't know about it, so we don't think about it."
The executive director said that while government programs such as Social Security and Medicare have helped reduce the number of older people living in poverty, children need the same considerations.
"Because we have not provided comparable programs to all children, the cycle of poverty continues," she said. "As society's safety net, social workers by necessity must serve children and their families, and connect them to the resources and supports that they need."
Clark said it would be far less costly to society to invest in policies that help families compared to the expense incurred assisting those that fall at or below the poverty level. The presidential candidates need to make children and families a priority in their platforms and keep their promises after the election, she added.
Other speakers at the press conference included Renee Jenkins, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics and Jim Hmurovich, president and CEO of Prevent Child Abuse America.
The candidates were sent a letter signed by the leaders of national organizations supporting Step Up for Kids Day. Among the questions they wanted the senators to address were:
- More than 8 million children have no health insurance in the U.S. How do you propose to ensure that children grow up healthy and have access to comprehensive health care?
- More than 3 million children nationwide were reported abused and neglected in 2006. What are your plans to keep all children safe from violence in their homes, schools and communities?
- Millions of children lack access to early education opportunities. What is your position on early care and education, including preparing children for kindergarten?
In addition to the event in Washington, DC, Every Child Matters officials said organizers in nearly every state hosted a Stand Up for Kids Day event at their state capitols and other areas.