Today the Senate Budget Committee held a hearing on the impact of budget decisions on children. Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-WA) opened the hearing by saying there’s one group in particular whose voices are not often heard when it comes to the federal budget process – and that is our nation’s children. They may not be walking the halls of Congress, or calling up their Senators, or strategizing with lobbyists about how to protect funding for their programs. But they deserve a seat at the table. She stated that we cannot and should not solve our debt and deficit problems on the backs of our children. This is wrong for our kids and is not good economic policy.
Witnesses included Bruce Lesley, President of First Focus. He said since a peak in 2010 total federal spending on children has fallen by $35 billion, a 16 percent drop. Total spending for children has now fallen for three years in a row. First Focus compared the Senate budget to the House budget and found the Senate budget clearly places a much higher value on children and protecting investments critical to them.
Margaret Nimmo Crow is Acting Executive Director of Voices for Virginia’s Children. Her comments focused on the impact of decreasing budget revenues on children at the state level. In Virginia the number of children living in poverty has increased every year since 2005. She testified that in Virginia Head Start will cut 647 children this fall, as well as 112 jobs. In Prince George County, VA, 41 instructional, administrative and support personnel have been lost since 2009 while they have gained 150 new students.
Taking a much different perspective Dr. David Muhlhausen, Research Fellow at the Heritage Foundation, criticized federal funding for Head Start and other support programs. His research shows little evidence that they are providing positive results. His testimony offered a challenge to the Committee to make sure federal funds are spent in ways that can demonstrate positive results.
Shavon Collier is a Head Start parent who testified along with her daughter, Sakhia Whitehead, who is a Head Start alum. Their testimony was a positive account of their experiences with Head Start. Ms. Collier described how the program provided her children a strong academic foundation and an ability to focus. Ms. Whitehead testified how Head Start helped her prepare for kindergarten and to be on the Honor Roll in elementary school.
The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health is hosting a symposium this week to address the needs of victims of child sex trafficking in the U.S. The symposium is part of a White House initiative, first announced by President Obama at the 2012 Clinton Global Initiative, to bring together leading researchers, bipartisan policy makers and advocates to identify gaps in research, best practices, and evidence to improve the lives of sexually exploited children.
The symposium will address how mental health research, law enforcement, survivor advocacy, disruptive technology, epidemiology, criminal justice, and public policy can all inform the treatment of victims of domestic sex trafficking. Much of the discussion will focus on using the power of technology to address these needs including equipping law enforcement with the technology and information needed to help rescue girls and put traffickers behind bars, reach out to girls where they are, online and on their mobile phones, to link them with critical services in their communities, and fostering information-sharing among academia, law enforcement and the private sector.
Yesterday the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth and the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute held a roundtable discussion on foster care and adoption legislative and policy priorities for the 113th Congress. Representative Karen Bass (D-CA) started off the discussion describing two priorities: 1) To convince the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to ensure youth in foster care will be eligible for Medicaid coverage up to age 26 even when moving from state to state, and 2) Passing legislation that will provide training for child welfare workers on issues involving sex trafficking of youth in foster care.
Representative Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) spoke about her passion for adoption and her interest in pursuing initiatives to improve adoption policies. She was followed by Representative Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) who spoke about improving education opportunities for children in foster care and opening the door to adoptions of children in Russia. Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) focused on family finding programs, especially the successful Wendy’s Wonderful Kids initiative, and the need to expand such family finding efforts
to more areas around the country.
Representative Grace Napolitano (D-CA), Co-Chair of the Congressional Mental Health Caucus, introduced H.R. 628, the Mental Health in Schools Act to revise and expand projects relating to children and violence to provide access to school-based comprehensive mental health programs. The bill authorizes funding for a competitive grant program that would provide increased funding to hire therapists and mental health professionals. Having qualified professionals working on-site in schools, will undoubtedly improve access to prevention and early intervention services for students in need. The Mental Health in Schools Act would also provide for comprehensive staff development for school and community service personnel working in the school and training for children with mental health disorders, for parents, siblings, and other family members of such children, and for concerned members of the community.
Last week, Napolitano and Los Angeles Laker Metta World Peace, joined with other Members of Congress on Capitol Hill to call for the passage of H.R. 628, the Mental Health in Schools Act, and an open dialogue on mental health. The Mental Health in Schools Act is cosponsored by over 40 Representatives. In addition, the bill has received broad support from the mental health, education, and child welfare communities. Senator Al Franken (D-MN) introduced companion legislation in the Senate last month with nine cosponsors.