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Where Do Kids Fit in a Presidential Campaign?

May 29, 2012

AUSTIN, Texas - The youngest Americans have been largely overlooked so far in the presidential campaign, according to children's advocates who are hoping the election will focus more on kids' issues before November.

Michael Petit, president of Every Child Matters, says big business is steering the campaign with multimillion-dollar attack ads, and the candidates are responding to those rather than focusing on families.

Petit thinks children need friends in high places too, including in the Oval Office.

"Campaigns cost a lot of money, and it's easy to ignore the needs of children, who don't contribute anything, and it's hard to ignore those who are putting a lot of money on the table. And it means children's issues are having a harder time than ever punching through."

He acknowledges that the economy, unemployment and health-care costs can be considered children's issues because they affect families, but he notes there has been little discussion of poverty and related concerns, from inadequate child care to substance abuse.

One of the group's priorities is legislation (S 1984/HR 3653) that Petit says has gotten scant attention so far in Congress. It would help curb deaths from child abuse and neglect, which Petit says are preventable and under-reported. The measure, sponsored in the House by Texas Congressman Lloyd Doggett, would convene an expert panel to recommend solutions.

"It would look at our nation's child protection system, our social safety net as it exists for children, and build a child-protection system that allows children to thrive, instead of one that fails to protect children."

He says there have been more child-abuse-related deaths in the United States than casualties in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars since those conflicts began. More than 80 percent of those child fatalities were children under age four.

Every Child Matters hosts a traveling exhibit that shows how the U.S. compares with other countries when it comes to child welfare: Petit says the United States is slipping.

The exhibit also highlights what past administrations have done to help children, such as eliminating child labor or instituting federal programs that provide children with health care, school lunches and immunizations.

"So, what we're trying to do is show that kids still have these great needs, and that when we've made smart choices about investing in our kids, we've all benefited."

The exhibit will tour the sites of the political conventions in August and September and presidential and vice-presidential debates in the fall. It stopped in Austin and Dallas last month.

Peter Malof, Public News Service - TX