After peaking in 2002, child well-being in the United States has been stagnant for five years. Meanwhile, recent data from the Child Well-Being Index shows some disturbing upward trends in child obesity and youth violence, as well as a persistent academic achievement gap. To date, public policy has not sufficiently mobilized to combat these issues before they start to affect the nation’s children. The New America Foundation brought together key policy makers and experts involved in improving child well-being to discuss current trends in child well-being and the value of prevention-oriented policy. The Honorable Bobby Scott (D-VA) and the Honorable Mike Castle (R-DE) were joined by Jessica Donze Black, Executive Director of the Campaign to End Obesity; David Kass, President of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids; and Sara Mead, a Senior Research Fellow in the Education Policy and Workforce and Family Programs at the New America Foundation. The event was moderated by the Director of New America’s Workforce and Family Program, David Gray.
Rep. Scott opened the discussion by describing the reactive nature of policy makers when it comes to policies affecting children. It exists, he said because, child advocates don’t always have a voice in the policy-making process. “Prevention never has a constituency,” Rep. Scott told the audience on Capitol Hill. “The only people lobbying are those that already have the problem.” Rep. Castle echoed his colleague’s sentiments and stressed the need to engage the media and draw more attention to the need for and effectiveness of preventative policy.
The discussion continued with detailed examples of innovative and effective policies for prevention. David Kass described his organization’s research-backed approach to combating youth crime, a comprehensive approach that includes home-visiting programs, strengthening early education and afterschool programs, and developing effecting intervention programs for youth offenders. Jessica Donze Black described a similarly comprehensive approach to combating childhood obesity, which has tripled since the CWI began in 1975. State and federal programs, she said have already helped promote breastfeeding through the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, and help schools put more fruits and veggies, and few sugary beverages on the lunch menu. There is still work to be done to encourage less inactive “screen time” (TV, computer, video games) and to encourage teenagers to get adequate sleep. (Black's PowerPoint Presentation)
Sara Mead, an early education expert, spoke of the importance of focusing on early education programs through the critical grade three year. More and more states have developed public pre-k programs but, she said, policy makers also need to focus on program quality and the alignment of curriculum and standards through the first years of elementary school. According to Mead, this PK-3 approach can maximize the preventative benefits of high quality early childhood education.
To summarize the importance of preventative policy, Rep. Scott offered a memorable story of a town that faced two options to solve the problem of people falling off a cliff: build a fence around the cliff or station an ambulance down in the valley. The town first chose the ambulance, but then realized that more money and lives would be saved if they built the fence instead. The moral of the story: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
-Christina Satkowski, Research Associate for the Education Policy Program
Co-sponsored by the offices of Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Representative Mike Castle (R-DE).
Rayburn House Office Building, Room 2168
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