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‘90s FAMILY : A New Pledge: What’s Good for the Children Is Good for All

THE WASHINGTON POST

Move over, Newt. Your “contract with America” is not the only compact on the Hill these days.

As Congress reconvened last week, all members of Congress found on their desks the Contract With America’s Children.

Endorsed by more than 100 mainstream organizations serving children--including the Junior League, the United Way and the National PTA--the document asks each representative and senator to sign a promise that they will weigh children’s needs first as they take up issues ranging from welfare reform to a balanced budget. It also warns that they will be held accountable if they don’t.

The document reflects a subtle shift in strategy among some of the more centrist children’s advocates. At one time, they bought into the philosophy--heard frequently during last year’s debate on health care reform--that what’s good for everybody will be good for children. But health care reform failed and along with it the possibility of guaranteed coverage for children. Now the advocates say lawmakers must be persuaded to turn the conventional adage on its head: What’s good for children will be good for everybody.

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The contract is the brainchild of Children Now, a policy and research association, and the Coalition for America’s Children, a bipartisan umbrella group of 300 organizations best known for its slogan: “Who’s for kids and who’s just kidding?”

Disappointed with the White House’s performance on children’s issues and frightened by the GOP resurgence in November, these advocates began discussing last month their fears that in the upcoming shearing of the federal budget, programs benefiting children would be the first to fall. Getting Americans, including federal lawmakers, to sign onto 10 principles might forestall some of those cuts, they decided.

“There was real concern over what would be put in place for children,” says Susan Nall Bales, director of children’s programs for the Benton Foundation. “But you can’t even begin to have that discussion until children are central to policy instead of unintended consequences of policy.”

On Dec. 8, the Benton Foundation, which helps support the Coalition, faxed a copy of the proposed contract to 300 Coalition organizations. By 2 p.m. the next day, more than 100 of those agencies had faxed back an endorsement and many pledged to distribute contracts to their memberships. The following week, several of the major endorsers released the contract at a news conference on the Capitol steps, not far from where incoming House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) announced his party’s contract last fall.

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The Contract With America’s Children was worded broadly in order to attract wide support. One principle, for example, says that all children should “get the basics they need to grow up healthy.” Another would “support marriage, help families stay together and help young people understand the responsibility of parenting.”

Communities and groups may take different views on how to accomplish a given principle, the advocates say. To reduce the exposure of children to violence, for example, some groups may lobby for gun-control laws while others may educate parents on keeping their guns locked and unloaded.

Whatever the tactic, the advocates hope the contract will move and unite the millions of Americans who make up their constituencies, as well as the lawmakers.

“This is a personal pledge, not just a lawmaker’s pledge,” says Lois Salisbury, executive director of Children Now. “Take environmentalism, for example. Now we all recycle. When people personally make a commitment, they start thinking what that commitment means.”

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Advocates acknowledge that their new objectives will not be easy to meet. Americans may say they care a lot about children, but they do not easily see the connection between children’s needs and government, Bales says. Politicians also don’t believe that supporting children’s needs can help them win votes, Bales says.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Ten Principles of the Contract With America’s Children

Children First. We promise to consider children’s needs and well-being, first and foremost, in evaluating health and welfare reforms, or any other national policy.

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Healthy Children. We promise to ensure that all children get the basics they need to grow up healthy.

Capable Children. We promise all children the chance to realize their potential, and we expect all parents to join in this promise by becoming active partners in their child’s education.

Safe Children. We promise to reduce the exposure of children to violence--on television, on our streets and in our homes--and to educate the public about the risks of firearms.

Families Together. We promise to support marriage, help families stay together and help young people understand the responsibility of parenting.

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Working Families. We promise to help working families stay out of poverty.

Fair Chance. We promise to support a family’s efforts to get ahead by making sure that continuing education and training are available to people of all means.

Value Youth. We promise to provide young people with places to go and things to do that will help them become responsible members of our society.

Community Responsibility. We promise to do our part in our own community to support all children’s healthy development.

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Leadership Accountability. We promise to hold our elected leaders accountable for their responsibilities to safeguard the future of America’s children.

* Source: The Washington Post


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