As I listened to President Trump’s State of the Union Address waiting to hear even a kernel of hope for our country’s most vulnerable children I became more and more distressed and disgusted as these children’s needs were once again left behind along with the values of the America and all great faiths that so many of us love and respect.
The President’s address was silent on the shameful problems of homelessness, hunger, the lack of poor quality early childhood and educational opportunities, needed reforms in our child welfare and juvenile justice systems, and the violence that plagues too many children in their families and communities that I laid out in a letter urging him to address the state of America’s children. This silence is a national embarrassment.
While the address included a few broad brushstrokes that might help improve the odds for some children, at best these solutions would fill only a very small hole in the moral chasm of child needs – help to grow up healthy, safe, educated and excited about the future. The President dramatized the horrible effect of the opioid crisis that is ravaging our country but failed to commit to the urgently needed investments necessary to help babies and other children who are its faultless littlest victims or their families. He spoke about getting tough on “drug dealers and pushers” but was not clear that pharmaceutical companies or physicians contributing to the crisis were targets. And there was no attention – none – to the great need for investments in treatment.
The President highlighted important job growth but made no mention of the critical need for safe, quality and affordable child care to enable parents to take these jobs. The $1.5 trillion in federal, state and local state investments mentioned in infrastructure improvements included no recognition that today’s children will form the core of tomorrow’s workforce, but millions – especially the more than 13.2 million living in poverty – need significant investments in their own futures before they can contribute to our nation’s future.
Other references were grossly at odds with the actual challenges threatening children today. The President’s pride that “we are totally defending our Second Amendment” ignored the fact that most recent data show eight children and teens killed by guns every day. There was no sign of a commitment to protect children over guns.
Immigration was perhaps the saddest discussion of all as we see the lives of almost two million young people with promising futures and eager to contribute to our land being held hostage for a border wall and anti-family policies that threaten the safety and stability of many seeking refuge in our country – for most the only country they know. His comment that “Americans are dreamers too” sowed more ugly seeds of division and dissent and his highlighting the tragic MS-13 murders of two young girls stoked the flames of hate and fear that we have felt too often over the last year. I urge the President and all of us to recall Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s truth: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Protections for Dreamers in our land – their land – must be preserved.
A nation that does not stand for children does not stand for anything and will not stand blameless before God when asked to account for every sacred child entrusted to our care and protection. Our nation’s children deserve better. We all deserve better.
Marian Wright Edelman is President of the Children’s Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to staging.childrensdefense.org.