Waging War for Our Children

Child Welfare League of America
Monday, 26 November 2001

Op-Ed By Shay Bilchik: "War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing." So goes the popular antiwar song from the early-1970s. But that is not the mood of the country today. We are now at war on multiple fronts and winning it is essential to our future. It is, however, a different type of war than we have fought before, in both the front lines of battle and in the tools being used. And one of those fronts, not getting the attention it deserves, is a war we need to fight on behalf of our children and in defense of their future.

We are waging war oversees against terrorist networks in Afghanistan, with our military efforts being conducted largely from the air using Precision Guided Munitions (PGM) that allow the military to hit discrete targets while minimizing injury to our soldiers -- perhaps setting the stage for a more intensive ground war. Within our borders, we are waging war against both a bio-terrorism threat that grows more frightening by the day and a slowing economy that threatens the health of businesses and communities nationwide.

The current demands on federal funding are immense, and as the Bush administration and Congress work to provide support for defense, antiterrorism measures, disaster relief, and economic stimulus, they are attempting to be precision guided in their actions and understandably focused on immediate targets. But unlike the military's PGMs, their intense focus in this case has the potential to cause significant damage in the areas they leave untouched. We cannot let this happen, as the damage about to be caused is to our children.

As we wage this multi-front war, too many leaders in Washington are losing focus on our other domestic issues and the desperate need for a continued federal investment in families and children. Unfortunately, bills introduced this year that would have provided needed services, including substance abuse treatment and youth development, are no longer considered priorities and will not likely be considered this session.

Perhaps of most immediate importance, Congress is now considering funding for the Promoting Safe and Stable Families program, a vital source of federal funds that helps states provide supports for families in crisis. These funds help to better protect abused and neglected children by creating greater safety and stability in their lives and when needed, adoption services. President Bush requested an additional $200 million for the program in his FY 2002 budget, recognizing it as "a valuable safety net program, designed to strengthen families at risk and ensure the safety and permanency of placements of vulnerable children."

This important funding increase is now at risk. I understand that we are living in a new world - and with unexpected expenditures for defense and disaster relief, it is understandable that funding proposed before the events of recent months will be reconsidered. But so completely shortchanging children and families in a time when economic downturns have put more children in need and have compromised the ability of nonprofit organizations to provide services, is simply shortsighted.

As the Congress weighs tax cuts and measures to stimulate the economy and bolster ailing industries, they cannot ignore the importance of strong, self-supporting families to our nation's economic health. Additional funding for the Promoting the Safe and Stable Families program and others will create new jobs within the social services industry, while the supports they provide will lessen the future dependence of many Americans on federal assistance. It is the economic stimulus version of the PGM and when combined with other methods of stimulating the economy it can work.

This smart investment is especially important now, because despite the outpouring of support for the victims of the September 11 attack, most charitable organizations that serve children and families are facing serious downturns in donations and shrinking endowments due to the economic decline. The combination of more children in need and fewer agencies to serve them could be catastrophic.

So as we are waging wars to make our country safe, our economy strong and to preserve both our future as a democracy and our way of life, let's not hesitate to also serve the immediate needs of our youngest and most vulnerable - our children. This is a just war. Few are protesting our actions, through song or otherwise. It should be understood that we must win it on all fronts -- our future depends on it.

For more information, or to contact Child Welfare League of America, see their website at: www.cwla.org

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