Supporting today’s youth to create tomorrow’s advocates
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During the past few weeks, we have seen young people across the country demonstrate their desire to engage in political debate to drive policy change. They have led marches, moments of reflection and prayer, social media campaigns, direct lobbying efforts and press conferences on Capitol Hill and in many state capitols across America. These emerging leaders, most still teenagers, have made their voices heard. However, at the earlier end of the spectrum, our youngest — those just entering the education system — are not yet able to advocate for themselves.

In a fractured political environment, investing in the future of our children and, ultimately, in the future of our country, should unite our political leaders. Members of both parties agree that improved health care and early childhood education levels the playing field for children in the U.S.  We have a rare opportunity to move this consensus to action and remind the American public of the good our political institutions can achieve.

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Non-profit organizations and public-private partnerships are also crucial catalysts for turning this political consensus into action. That’s why Save the Children, Save the Children Action Network and Johnson & Johnson joined forces to organize the 2018 Advocacy Summit in Washington, D.C. For three days in March, more than 250 student leaders and adult advocates from 34 states stood side-by-side in Washington, D.C., urging members of Congress to support proven solutions that invest in kids.

The recent Omnibus spending bill passed by Congress includes funding for programs that help young children across the country succeed. It includes an historic doubling in funding for the Child Care Development Block Grant program that will allow access to high-quality child care programs for an additional 200,000 low-income American kids.

Early childhood education like Head Start and home visiting programs like Save the Children’s Early Steps to School Success have been proven to help children perform better in the classroom and get higher-paying jobs, reducing dependence on already-strained social programs. In health care, the reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program also secured a healthier future for our most vulnerable children. Now Congress must live up to its responsibility to our youth by retaining this funding in their 2019 budget.

There is also a common understanding that foreign aid helps protect our national security, expand our access to foreign markets and support countries on the path to self-reliance and economic prosperity. Passing bipartisan legislation such as the Reach Every Mother and Child Act, which aims to prevent maternal and child death around the world, is just one example of a positive next step. By expanding access to global health solutions like ensuring children have access to skilled health workers, medicines and immunizations, clean water and nutritious food, the Reach Act will be low-cost and highly effective at reducing tragic, preventable deaths. Successful programs, such as Helping Babies Breathe, have shown the difference investing in health care infrastructure can make in reducing preventable newborn deaths.

During the Advocacy Summit, students and adults urged their lawmakers to do just that for Head Start and other programs, including the Child Care Development Block Program. They also challenged leaders to build on this foundation of bipartisanship by taking further tangible action.

It is inspiring to see our youth step up and make their voices heard, and we must ensure future generations can continue to push our society forward.

We must build on the wave of empowerment sweeping America, where everyday citizens are moved to engage with their elected leaders to create positive public policy change. Platforms such as the Advocacy Summit and marches on Washington, movements that initiate change and celebrate a diversity of perspectives, provide an opportunity for our young leaders to make their voices heard while helping them develop valuable skills. Investing in our children is not only the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do to secure America’s future. And it helps ensure the next generation will be better off than the last.

Mark K. Shriver serves as Senior Vice President of U.S. Programs and Advocacy at Save the Children. Joaquin Duato serves as Worldwide Chairman, Pharmaceuticals, Johnson & Johnson.