Since the first revelations that the Trump administration was separating immigrant children from their parents, commentators have linked the story to the many other policies that hurt kids. Some analogize the border crisis to failing foster care systems — where kids are separated from their abusive parents only to bring them into equal or worse dysfunction.
Others see the detention of immigrant children as no worse than our juvenile justice system, and the harm it inflicts on the children it is condemning to a cycle of institutionalization. For many, Trump’s border policies reflect a larger disdain for public benefits, including health care and education, directed at children in need.
The influence we have upon their young minds and bodies is disproportionate, echoing and amplifying into their futures and ours. That sense of something larger being at stake is probably why even the most die-hard partisans will dress up discussions of policies that impact children in non-partisan language.
But there’s something missing in the constellation of stories revolving around Trump’s child separations, a story and connection around which all the others seem to be revolving. Where did these needy children come from, the kids at the border, citizen children deep within our borders that need basic health care, kids trapped in neglectful foster care systems?
What’s missing in these larger discussions of child welfare is family planning. That is the policy area from which all child welfare conundrums originate. Is it time to break the taboo and talk about where kids come from?
Needy kids don’t fall from the sky, it’s hypocritical to claim to care about kids without caring about the conditions in which they are born, and the border across which they enter this world is the one that matters most — both for satisfying their needs, and protecting our future.
Conservatives and liberals will find surprising but comforting common ground behind the veil of hush behind which we usually discuss whether certain parents should have certain kids. ‘
Yes, conservatives are correct that parents must be held responsible for the children they have and not impose limitless costs on others.
Yes, liberals are correct that, responsibility aside, children are an especially vulnerable class, deserve equal opportunities in life relative to others in their generation, investing in them yields unusually high returns, and — moral responsibility aside — policy outcomes matter.
We can reconcile these seemingly conflicting positions by ensuring that family planning is a cooperative endeavor, recognizing mutual obligations on the parents and community to ensure all kids a fair start in life, and gearing delays in childbearing and resource redistribution around maximizing outcomes in child welfare and early childhood development. There are real world ways to do this.
For example, the United Nations Population Fund should revise its interpretation of the fundamental human right to have children, from its current enshrinement of subjective parental choice to instead explicitly orient its family planning work around the needs of children, as reflected in the Children’s Rights Convention (CRC).
Within the U.S. (which in one of the few countries that does not implement the CRC), Congress could modify tax-advantaged “529” educational savings accounts, and work with states to fully fund those accounts for prospective parents and children, including provisions for college tuition, through progressively scaled contributions that also require some cooperative and progressively scaled contribution from parents, before they have kids.
Doing so would mean a future world filled with happy and healthy children, equal opportunities for all, smaller and more connected communities, and functional democracies in a healthier environment.
Responsibility and compassion can be resolved if we act before-the-fact, and there are many ways to do this.
The crisis at the border raises many issues. But we will be chasing symptoms rather than causes until we address the center of the child welfare universe: The need for better family planning.
Carter. Dillard is the founder of Having Kids, a national child welfare organization, and was most recently a visiting scholar at the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, University of Oxford.