Youth Justice


“A population that does not take care of the elderly and of children and the young has no future, because it abuses both its memory and its promise.” 
— Pope Francis

For many, the start of a new year is a chance to turn over a new leaf and take a hard look at the gap between who we say we want and need to be and who we are. As a nation it’s time to close our hypocrisy gap in the treatment of our children and value and protect our children—all of them. We need to examine with urgency how we treat our children and the gap between what we say and what we do.

If we did, we’d find:

  • A public school student is suspended every 2 seconds.*
  • A public high school student drops out every 9 seconds.*
  • A child is arrested every 24 seconds.
  • A public school student is corporally punished every 30 seconds.*
  • A baby is born into poverty every 35 seconds.
  • A child is abused or neglected every 47 seconds.
  • A baby is born without health insurance every minute.
  • A baby is born into extreme poverty every 68 seconds.
  • A baby is born to a teen mother every 2 minutes.
  • A baby is born at low birthweight every 2 minutes.
  • A child is arrested for a drug offense every 4 minutes.
  • A child is arrested for a violent offense every 8 and a half minutes.
  • A baby dies before his or her first birthday every 22 minutes.
  • A child or teen dies from an accident every hour.
  • A child or teen is killed by guns every three hours and 18 minutes.
  • A child or teen commits suicide every four hours and 11 minutes.
  • A child is killed by abuse or neglect every five and a half hours.
  • A baby’s mother dies from pregnancy or childbirth complications every 11 hours and eight minutes.

*During the school year.

What do these numbers tell us about who we are as a nation and whether we value the life and potential of every child? Why do we choose to let children be the poorest age group in our rich nation and stand by as millions of children suffer preventable poverty, hunger, homelessness, sickness, neglect, abuse, miseducation, and violence? Why do we continue to mock God’s call for justice for children and the poor and our professed ideals of freedom and justice for all?

It’s time to realize the promise of a fair playing field for all children. We can and must do better.

Marian Wright Edelman is President of the Children’s Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to

Mrs. Edelman’s Child Watch Column also appears each week on The Huffington Post.