Dear President Trump and All 2020 Presidential Candidates,
For the most vulnerable young Americans, the challenge isn’t tomorrow. It’s right now. Children on the march, fleeing terror. Children in a court hearing, bewildered. Children separated from their parents, some even into oblivion by an insensitive bureaucracy. Children running from the rattle of gunfire. Children sprawled dead on the pavement at a food festival, an open-air concert, a shopping center, a school.
These images flood my television screen, night after night.
In recent months, the banner tracks the latest polls in the race for the White House.
The connection between the crisis of children and the election has become inevitable. And it is stark. By the time you read this letter, there will be more children, different children, to aid or to grieve.
As election 2020 nears, millennial and Generation Z voters are growing in numbers, and they are restless, demanding fundamental changes in our political culture. In response, those seeking to be sworn in as president in 2021 are staking out positions on issues ranging from climate change and immigration to health care and the minimum wage, positions that aim to improve the world for future generations.
Yet for the most vulnerable young Americans, the challenge isn’t tomorrow. It’s right now.
Vast numbers of small children and adolescents in the U.S. are victims of poverty and its knock-on effects such as homelessness, violence and joblessness.
— One in eight U.S. children under the age of 18 is abused or neglected
— One in 17 children in the U.S. spends time in foster care
— 70% of youth in the U.S. juvenile justice system have been in the child welfare system
— 60% of girls who are sex trafficked in the U.S. were in foster care
— Only 2% to 9% of U.S. children in foster care will ever earn a college degree
— 2.5 million U.S. children are homeless — that’s one in 30
— About 40% of homeless children in the U.S. are five years old or younger
This is a systemic humanitarian crisis that reverberates through our economy and society.
A study by Michael McLaughlin and Mark R. Rank of Washington University in St. Louis estimated that in 2015, child poverty reduced the size of the U.S. economy by more than $1 trillion, or 5.4% of gross domestic product.
With a child poverty rate of over 20%, the United States now ranks 32nd among developed nations — behind Mexico, according to data compiled by the OECD.
You are in a unique position to help reverse these trends.
And you must. Because the concerns of our young people are deeply embedded in every significant area of policy, at every level of government.
This is why, as an advocate for vulnerable children and youth, I believe we desperately need a national conversation on the challenges they face, and on how we as a society can and must meet them.
Will you help lead that conversation?
I believe that all children and young people have the right to grow up in a family environment. So do the 196 countries and territories around the world that are parties to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, committing themselves to uphold this right.
The successful efforts of many organizations working in this field demonstrate that a truly holistic approach can not only rescue children from the deadly spiral of poverty but provide a compassionate and empowering framework for a life of purpose and social worth.
Today child-focused organizations are leveraging their combined capacity, experience and knowledge to address some of these topics. For example, Joining Forces, an alliance of the six largest organizations, has undertaken a child-led initiative to change cultures and social attitudes towards children and violence. The logic behind this initiative is that legislation matters, but so does raising awareness in local communities.
What we need now are leaders who are willing to elevate the desperate concerns of those without a voice to the level they deserve among other national priorities.
We need leaders who will put these stories on the front page.
We need leaders who can forcefully express the needs of children in a presidential debate.
I call upon you to be that leader.
I believe that the basic well-being of children and youth is not a partisan issue. It is an American issue. Prioritizing their needs can remind us — and the rest of the world — what it means to be an American: the freedom to imagine a better future, and the courage to make it a reality.
With kind regards,
Neil Ghosh, Chief Executive Officer
SOS Children’s Villages USA