A White House conference on children

Our nation and its legislators should be proud. Historic and momentous changes are occurring that bode well for our nation’s most vulnerable children.

With the passage of the 2008 Foster Connections Act and now healthcare reform legislation, children face significantly better odds of succeeding.

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Granted, healthcare reform has not been universally embraced for its content, but it has on its merit, and I see that as enormous progress. And now to truly tap their potential, we need to strive for a trifecta.

To harness the changes spurred by these pieces of legislation, we must find ways to pull together the diverse groups, the systems, and funding mechanisms that serve vulnerable children. A White House Conference on Children and Youth is the forum to help guide and leverage these transformations so that they are successful. I know from my days as the chairwoman the House Select Committee on Children, Youth and Families that these conferences gave rise to important, course altering dialogues.

Incredibly effective policy resulted from past White House Conferences on Children. The first one was held in 1909, leading to better foster care services and the creation of the Children’s Bureau. For years, these conferences helped steer the national discourse on children’s issues, playing a key role in significant legislation and efforts. Other notable results include the development of a Children’s Charter offering 19 proposals on the requirements for a child’s education, health, welfare, and protection; the creation of the Emergency, Maternity, and Infant Care program; and the establishment of a Subcommittee on Children and Youth.

Unfortunately, the last one was held in 1970 — more than 40 years ago. It’s time to again make children the focus of national debates and discussions.

As a multi-month process culminating in a national event that brings together stakeholders and child welfare experts in communities across the nation, the conference provides the platform to seek solutions for the most pressing issues confronting children. Such a conference would examine the latest research and numbers, setting policy and reform recommendations to protect children into the next decade.

For the conference to become a reality, the president and Congress will have to act on legislation (H.R. 618 and S. 938). As a senator, President Barack Obama co-sponsored the enabling legislation, and I have written him asking for his continued support. In addition, Child Welfare League of America’s membership is rallying behind this critically important event. These child welfare advocates will be reaching out each week to legislators during April’s Child Abuse Prevention Month by officially registering their support online, calling their member of Congress and both senators, sending postcards to President Obama, and urging state legislatures to pass resolutions in support of the conference.

Four decades have passed since the last such conference — 40 years without the White House bringing the focus of the nation to examine the state of our children. Much has changed in America over this time. We continue to see alarming levels of unaddressed need, but the passage of healthcare and foster care legislation has made us hopeful that a new course is possible. Reestablishing the conference gives us a third critical win that puts us on a path of reform and commitment to improving children’s lives.

We encourage this nation’s leadership to continue making history. In a nation blessed with so much, a few good decisions can have an amazing and lasting impact on those who are still struggling. A White House Conference for Children and Youth would be a crowning achievement that will pay dividends by ensuring that our focus remains on the nation’s future.

Schroeder, a Colorado Democrat, served in Congress from 1973 to 1997. She is a member of the board of the Child Welfare League of America.