The Democratic Ticket: Unusual Child Advocacy Credentials

The two of us, Amy Harfeld and Robert Fellmeth, head up the national advocacy of the Children’s Advocacy Institute.  We are aware of the rather unusual credentials of the Democratic ticket for the Presidency and wish to detail those elements, an aspect little discussed in the torrent of mutual insults dominating campaigns and their coverage.  We have jointly authored the following report on the background of one side of the current contest. 

An historic election is underway. Yes, we are close to electing the first woman President in this country’s history. Yes, the opposing candidate is the most odious, divisive, and dangerous we have ever seen. But neither of these explains the unique characteristic that makes this election so unique and exciting for lifelong child advocates like me. 

On the Democratic side, we have a ticket chock full of child advocates. Really committed, knowledgeable champions who understand the needs of wide swaths of vulnerable American children and the economic, social, and moral imperative of addressing those needs. 

Hillary Clinton is the first presidential candidate ever to have invested years of her career at a child advocacy organization. Her record over the last four decades reveals time and again a career dedicated to improving education, health, and opportunity for the most vulnerable children in our nation. She helped push for the Foster Care Independence Act which helps young people aging out of foster care and worked tirelessly for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which now covers over 6 million American children. In Hillary’s own words, “I want to be a voice for America’s children.”

Her running mate Tim Kaine also has a long and impressive resume of supporting laws to lift up the most vulnerable children. Just last year, my 3 year-old daughter proudly placed a Champion for Children medal around Senator Kaine’s neck as Mom’s Rising recognized his unwavering support for expanded Pre-K and affordable child care. He has introduced legislation to provide tax credits for foster parents and preserve connections for siblings in care. 

Senator Kaine’s wife, Anne Holton, worked in the child welfare and foster care arena for over 15 years, ultimately serving as a family court judge. She spearheaded child welfare system change in Virginia and led the establishment of Fostering Futures, which focused on providing support for older foster youth leaving the system without an adoptive family.

This July, foster youth alumni Jelani Freeman stood front and center on stage at the Democratic National Convention. Never before have the compelling long-term issues of abused and neglected children been placed so squarely in the national political limelight. This unprecedented platform bodes well for the degree of attention and commitment these issues would receive in a Clinton-Kaine White House. 

Almost all political candidates express their concern for children’s safety and well-being, but very few put their money where their mouth is. Let’s be frank― children don’t vote, don’t pay taxes, and can’t contribute to political campaigns. They have zero political capital. Yet, the struggles which they face have a unique and profound impact on the nation’s economic security and stability, as well as on our moral standing domestically and around the world. 

This political season, we have a unique and precious moment― a Democratic ticket laden with committed child advocates. There is every reason to believe that this will translate into an elevated platform and meaningful action to strengthen the rights and improve the lives of children and foster youth across America.

Clinton’s former employer, the Children’s Defense Fund has, for years, been using the logo, “Be Careful What You Cut” alongside a photo of a cute toddler. Such is the defensive posture that child advocates have been forced into after a decade of recession, sequester, and a Congress unwilling to invest new dollars in children. If all voters committed to children come out to vote on November 8, we may reach a tipping point where we can liberate ourselves from this defensive mold and leap with all the confidence of our convictions to rightfully demand the reforms that will help move our nation’s children towards the bright futures that are their right.