Newsroom image of kids

Child Watch® Column: "Sounding the Siren for Children"

Release Date: December 6, 2013

Marian Wright Edelman

The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much. It’s whether we provide enough for those who have too little.

- Franklin Delano Roosevelt

This second decade of the 21st century is a crucial one for the children in America and for the nation’s future. When the Children’s Defense Fund began 40 years ago I never would have dreamed that in 2013 our work would be so unfinished and would be so hard. Although we have come far we are at a precarious moment when so many important gains have been partly eroded by a global recession, long term economic challenges, and the lack of investments in our children. The stock market on Wall Street may be hitting record highs again, but poor families with children are struggling to stay afloat. There are more than 16 million poor children—half in extreme poverty; two-thirds of them live with a working adult, but that is no guarantee of food on the table or a roof overhead. Each day in America 2,723 babies are born into poverty. America’s tattered safety nets are straining to catch our poorest age group. They have lifted millions of poor families and children out of poverty but now are under assault by political extremists. We must stand up and refuse to let them turn the clock of progress backwards.

We must staunch a backward drift into a second post-Reconstruction era driven too much by ideology: the fear of some of “losing our country” because of changing demographics and a Black president; a continuing structural racism and poverty that are hard to discuss honestly; and the redistribution of wealth and income from bottom and middle incomes to the very wealthiest at the top. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. warned about what the nation is facing today, saying we were integrating into a burning house infected by excessive materialism, militarism, and racism. When asked what we must do, he said that we all had to become firemen! The Children’s Defense Fund has been sounding the siren with urgency and persistence over four decades and will not stop until we are heard and sufficient actions are taken to combat this triple threat.

It is unjust and dumb policy when we know that hungry and sick children don’t learn in school but let poor children go hungry and get sick anyway. It is unjust and dumb to let children’s ability to survive, thrive, and develop depend in part on the lottery of geography of birth. It is dumb when we know Early Head Start is effective with infants and toddlers but provide funding enough to serve only 4 percent of eligible children. It is dumb policy when only half of the states and the District of Columbia have so far opted to expand Medicaid to many more poor parents when we know that when parents are insured, children are more likely to be insured. It is dumb when only one in 10 of the children who receive free or reduced price lunch during the school year participate in the Summer Food Program. It is dumb when we spend over two and a half times more per prisoner than per public school student.

There is no greater threat to our national and military security than the fact that 66 percent of eighth grade public school students and nearly 80 percent or more of Black and Hispanic eighth graders cannot read or compute at grade level. High quality early childhood development and learning interventions are the best investments we could make to eliminate child poverty and to improve our children’s future and the future of our country. Nobel Laureate economist James Heckman estimates a lifelong economic rate of return of 7 to 10 percent each year for every dollar invested. Studies have shown that children enrolled in high quality early childhood programs are more likely to graduate from high school, hold a job, and make more money and less likely to commit a crime than their peers who do not participate. It is dumb not to invest in what works and yields large economic and educational results.

The Children’s Defense Fund’s trademarked logo based on the old fisherman’s prayer— “Dear Lord, be good to me. The sea is so wide and my boat is so small”—shows a tiny sailboat on a vast sea drawn by a young child many years ago next to the prayer. Never has it seemed more poignant and appropriate than today as our children are being tossed all about in a rough and uncertain sea of life without rafts by killer economic and political waves from the wakes of gigantic, powerful special interests capsizing small child boats.

We are at a critical juncture – with 50 percent more child poverty today than when the Children’s Defense Fund was founded. Is our nation protecting a power boat enjoined to give right of way – rather than protecting the child’s small boat struggling without power to reach safe harbor? It is time for the law of the sea to become the law of the land.

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.

Sign-up to receive CDF President Marian Wright Edelman's weekly Child Watch Column.

Let us know what you think about this column:

Enter this word: Change

Here's what others have said:

Submitted by Retired Teacher at: December 10, 2013
It is all too obvious that schools run by churches and private charities do much better for poor children. It is time to stop wasting our tax money on public school unions and bureaucrats.

Submitted by Esi at: December 9, 2013
May such powerful pronouncements propel each of us to take action! Thank you, Dr. Edelman, for your sustained commitment and courage.

Submitted by Sally at: December 9, 2013
YES,YES,YES... I caught the fire and passion, and am even more committed to do all I can to right this immoral wrong.

Submitted by Ruth J. Richey at: December 8, 2013
I am reading "The Count of Monte Cristo" by Alexander Dumas for the first time. The most striking effect it is having on me is enlightenment; how similar is our present day disparity between wealth and poverty to that of the 18th century European socio-economic model our great United States insisted on emulating then and now dispite the high and lofty words of our founding documents. We still suffer from the ravages of self endulgence, arrogance, ignorance of how the economy really works, and failure to act on the most obvious mandates to those moral values we insist on saying we believe. If we value the life of humankind, we must invest in the quality of life of our children regardless of the status we assign them at birth. Our children are our future. These are powerful words that must be transformed into action if this nation is to survive.

Submitted by Anonymous at: December 8, 2013
how can we say children are our future when we cant give them the education to be our future. No one wants to invest in our children's education,they invest in everything else that some times falls,lets invest in education for our children were we can visually see our investment,and rejoice.

Submitted by T at: December 8, 2013
Your columns are so educational and uplifting because of the worthy cause that you and others are fighting from your heart concerning children in our nation.God has a plan and we're all apart of it. My part is with the mass incarceration in the U.S. with Black Men in Cages/Prisons. Ms. Marian Wright Edelman my ? to you is would it permissible for me to post your columns on my website for educational purposes for people whom need to be aware of these important issuses. Visit

Submitted by Beth at: December 7, 2013
Fantastic column this week. Marian hits the nail on the head. It is DUMB.

Submitted by Michele five at: December 7, 2013
Clear vision is presented in this article. I completely agree with the statement that, "It is unjust and dumb policy when we know that hungry and sick children don’t learn in school but let poor children go hungry and get sick anyway." I have worked as a Speech-Language Pathologist for 33 years, in public schools in inner cities and in rural areas, and I can attest to the truth of that statement. I would add one further point which is that it is unthinkable that young children are not being protected against the toxins in cigarette smoke, and are thereby exposed to the risk of very serious illnesses and disabilities that often result from breathing tobacco toxins: asthma, ADHD, learning disabilities, hearing problems (ear infections), voice disorders, seizures, fetal tobacco syndrome and SIDS. Tobacco corporations can spend millions per day on promotion of their deadly products, but the one thing they fear is that the truth about maternal and child health issues will eventually become revealed.

Submitted by Joy at: December 7, 2013
I agree with Mrs. Edelman, We must all chip in and help. Either monetary contributions or time contributions. God help us and our children.

Submitted by Dan Willier at: December 7, 2013
We adults have created a societal mad house with laws to seemingly protect a child. But now the child is running the mad house. The child/parent are not conforming to "A.R.E."( accountability , responsibility, and expectation What we need is a structured obedient discipline coming from the family: A program called Youth Entrepreneur leadership Program (YELP)is cutting into this ugly social quagmire. YELP’s Community mission: It is the Family’s Kitchen Table for teaching societal high-quality values. 1. Teach Work-Ready values (create 90,002 jobs in one county). 2. Teach Coachable Obedient Discipline (COD) 3. Teach the sting of obesity 4. Teach the four educational "R"s (Reading, Riting, Rithmetic and Reasoning) 5. Teach"WG2i (Wealth Generational Inheritance Investments) 6. Teach/ work with law enforcement (Police) in establishing a joint taskforce between community First Responders and children/parents called: Community Collaborative Children Coalition Force (C4f) to reduce juvenile crime. 7. Teach “A.R.E” (Accountability, Responsibility, and Expectation) to Knowledge Management Techie Centurions (KMTC). 8. Teach how to use the $10,000.00 that a KMTC will receive upon graduating from high school with High Moral Values, Social Work Awareness and a 3.3 GPA. YELP is fighting a “gorilla war” on a conventional battle field of apathy, disillusionment and hopelessness in our children

Submitted by None at: December 7, 2013
I agree 100%

Submitted by Reggie at: December 7, 2013
Mrs. Edelman, I agree with your assessment of the situation. The question now becomes how do we help to empower the masses who are affected these dumb and self- serving policies to stand up, speak up, and vote up to say enough is enough. The future of our survival as a people and as a nation is at stake. As in the 50s & 60s the battle cry was sound all oh so loudly. We must sound the cry for our children. Mid-term elections would be a great time to start. I work for a school district and I look into the eyes of these children and I see no hope in their eyes. The time is right here and now to say enough is enough. It is time to put the pressure on for the USA to do for its own children and citizens what they demand from other countries. The time for hypocrisy is over. It is time to stop saying we are a Christian nation but to live out the meaning of being a follower of Jesus. Jesus healed the sick and never charged them any money. Jesus fed the hungry and had plenty left for others. Jesus was not ashamed of the outcast, he hung out with them. In as such as you have done it to the least of these you have done it unto me. Let each and every person of voting age say enough is enough and take action.

Submitted by Kit at: December 7, 2013
Your concerns are most appropriate. What happened to the ideas of providing for the least among us? Ask not what the nation can give to us? Helping the downtrodden? Giving alms to the poor? Unfortunately, will it take a revolution to scare the ones who have the means to provide for those who do not have? It is not that they need handouts. It is that they need the opportunities (jobs, education, healthcare) so they can be self-sufficient and productive citizens. As much as I might not have agreed with some of the demands of such extremist groups as Black Panthers, perhaps it took them to scare people to then consider the reasonable approaches and concerns of men and women like Martin Luther King and Marian Wright Edelman. Abominable behavior exists because it is allowed to exist! Where is our collective anger to change this situation?

Submitted by VessyMink at: December 6, 2013
I think it is a great column and I am a children's music artist would would like to help the cause in any way I can, Http:// Http://

Submitted by Anonymous at: December 6, 2013
THE ROANOKE TIMES Friday,February 15, 2013 Op Ed Piece: "Child Care Makes a Difference" By Phyllis T. Albritton Albritton is a financial adviser who lives in Blacksburg. After reading Michael Sluss' article ("Budget proposals differ on Medicaid," Feb. 8, I wanted to see how much money was going to the River North Correctional Center. What I found was astounding — more than $14 million. Just think if that money were used for day care. It also would probably give us no schools with the letter grade F, as most of them are in low-income areas. The only way I can see to break the chain of sending our poor to prison and to give our poor children a chance is with a very early start on education. When we moved to Charlottesville in 1963, there were no public kindergartens in Virginia. I was shocked, as I had gone to public kindergarten in New York in 1943. Everyone kept asking me where my children would be attending private pre-school and private kindergarten (much like going to the proper prep school to get into Yale, Harvard or Princeton when I was coming along). I asked what was offered poor children. Of course, nothing. So, an African-American woman and I started probably the first desegrated school in the South, picking up the children. It was eye-opening because the black parents had their children ready; the white parents did not. Most often, these parents were very depressed, often drunk, and with very low self-esteem. How I wished we could somehow get their children to the program. But, we could not. When I worked in an inner-city black neighborhood in Chicago, it was the black mothers who did not have their children ready for the same reasons. Today, I recommend that our nation have mandatory child care, similar to what many of us started in our New River Valley community: Valley Interfaith Child Care Center. Starting at 3 months of age, every family that receives money from the government for a parent in prison, on welfare-to-work or Medicaid would participate. For the children whose parents do not get them to the program after a certain amount of time — working with social services and the program — the children would be placed in foster care, where they would have to attend the program. Public education in the U.S. is truly being challenged. It made such a difference for my first-generation Jewish dad from Poland and my Ukrainian-born mother. I believe we must support public education. Today, our future prison population is being projected based on students not reading at grade level at the end of third grade. As prisons are becoming privatized, we continue to pay for them and don't give a thought as to how to stop the prison pipeline. I believe a commitment must be made to our poor young with our tax dollars. We pay for prisons at about $25,000 per inmate but haggle over money for pre-school. Where is the money for a day care program that would offer our vulnerable children what they often do not get in their home environment: love, limits, food, reading, music, rest time and more. My long-held belief — working in inner-city Chicago in 1958, starting a pre-school for poor 5-year-olds in 1963 in Charlottesville and helping establish an all-day care program for low-income children starting at age 3 months in the New River Valley — is that all families receiving our tax dollars for imprisonment, welfare-to-work or Medicaid should be forced by law to have their children in publicly-funded 8-hour-a-day day care. The time has come for the United States to take a true stand for our poor children, starting at age 3months. This might sound very radical, but I believe it would make quite a difference.

Submitted by Yiayia Barb at: December 6, 2013
I sincerely appreciate the regular inspiration in these messages. I forward them to friends, and often to my granddaughter, who is in her last year of college, preparing to be an elementary teacher. This viewpoint enhances her learning.

Submitted by Elizabeth at: December 6, 2013
ThIs Truth Hurts But It Is So Important To Hear it.Thank You MWE For Cintinuing To Sound The alarm. We Need You..

Submitted by Eric at: December 6, 2013
Please explain how continuing a war in Afghanistan and allowing thousands of innocent people in including children to be killed by drones helps the future of children.

Submitted by Eric at: December 6, 2013
Children need to have more fun activities!

Submitted by DOUN2U at: December 6, 2013