How are the children? What if everyone asked the familiar question of policymakers as well as parents? That's what a Children's Action Team in West Virginia is doing. Its goal is to get all branches of state and local government to consider the effect on children whenever new programs or policies are devised.
This is just one way in which energized advocates in all 50 states are challenging the neglect that has left many of America's young undernourished, undertrained, and trailing their peers in lesser industrial nations in matters like health care.
Last June 1 the new crusaders, 250,000 strong, joined the Stand for Children rally in Washington. For next June 1 they are planning hundreds of local rallies throughout the country - like the 133 initiated last year by those who could not go to Washington.
Helping children, of course, begins at home, as stressed by Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children's Defense Fund, who organized Stand for Children. "Parenting is the most important function in this society," she told an interviewer. "What parents do or don't do and the values they transmit to their children will influence the future legacy and strength of this country more than any other things."
But parents need support of local, state, and national leadership. Ms. Edelman did not shrink from criticizing what she considered the inadequate welfare reform law signed by old friend President Clinton. To protest it, her husband, Peter Edelman, resigned from a Department of Health and Human Services post. They hope to ensure children receive other aid where the act falls short.
The Children's Action Team (CAT) in Princeton, W. Va., is typical. Its members are from organizations that help children such as child care centers, churches, child advocacy groups, food programs, and government agencies. Besides its "How are the children?" campaign, it plans a Children's Day at the Legislature this month.
In Ohio the Mahoning Valley CAT will hold a telethon (April 4) to help organizations in a five-county area recruit qualified community volunteers.
In Pennsylvania the Centre County CAT works to form a "Teen Club" where teenagers can join in mentoring programs with college students.
Such Children's Action Teams provide focus, but they can't do all the work. Every parent, every individual and institution needs to test word and deed against the impact on the young - how are the children now?