America’s Children in 2019: The Year in Review

December 27, 2019 | National

After nearly 50 years of fighting for America’s children, we know that policy advocacy can often feel like a push and pull: advancing policies to improve the odds for children while also fighting back against an onslaught of threats that would harm them. 2019 was no different. As we reflect back on the year – and look ahead to 2020 – we celebrate the wins that will make the future brighter for children, reflect on the attacks that put our children in danger, and recommit ourselves to the fight to protect vulnerable children and families.

Five Victories for Children in 2019

  1. The Family First Transition Act became law, helping to keep children at risk of entering the child welfare system safely with their families. The passage of the Family First Prevention Services Act (Family First) in February of 2018 represented the first major modernization of the child welfare system in decades and the potential for historic, transformative change. For the first time, under Family First, the federal government will now pay for evidence-based services that keep children safely at home, preventing them from suffering abuse or neglect and from being pulled into the child welfare system. The Family First Transition Act will now make it easier for states and tribes to take full advantage of these opportunities and makes it that much more likely that more children will have the opportunity to grow up in strong, stable families.
  2. Data showed government programs and policies lifted 13.68 million children out of poverty. Data released in 2019 showed that in 2018, 6.42 million children were lifted out of poverty due to the Earned Income Tax Credit and other refundable credits; 1.87 million children because of SNAP; 1.27 million thanks to housing subsidies; 1.98 million from the National School Lunch Program; and many others due to WIC, TANF, SSI, and other government programs with proven track records of supporting children and families. We must continue to protect these programs from the unrelenting attacks they face and ensure they are there for children and families when they need a little extra support.
  3. The dangerous public charge regulation that would have prevented millions of families from accessing the public benefits they need to survive and thrive was blocked from being implemented. Federal courts in several jurisdictions issued nationwide preliminary injunctions to successfully block this DHS regulation – citing in their decisions the more than a quarter million comments from organizations and individuals.
  4. Congress funded gun violence prevention research for the first time in decades. The end of year spending package included $25 million for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institute of Health (NIH) to study gun violence and ways to prevent it. Congress stopped funding gun violence research in 1996 after an amendment passed blocking agencies from using federal funds to advocate for gun control.
  5. Young people across the country – including CDF scholars and partners – stepped up and made their voices heard on issues affecting their communities. In July, CDF Freedom Schools scholars marched to places of power in their communities to demand we protect children, not guns. In September, 1,000 teens and parents from Jack and Jill of America met with their representatives about why gun violence protection mattered to them and delivered CDF’s Protect Children, Not Guns And this fall, as the 2020 presidential race heated up, 18-year old Israel Glenn of Minnesota, courageously shared his story of growing up in poverty in hopes it will help draw attention to the 1 in 6 children living in poverty in the US. CDF joined Israel in calling for a question — the first of its kind in over 20 years — about child poverty on the 2020 presidential debate stage.

Five Attacks on Children in 2019

  1. US authorities continued to forcibly separate families and hold thousands of children in traumatizing, jail-like detention centers. In addition to separating families, detaining children, and pushing for a physical border wall, the Trump administration has created an “invisible wall” to curtail the legal immigration of non-wealthy, non-white immigrants and terrorize immigrant families. This is a national and moral disgrace. Families belong together—not torn apart at our border, nor separated within our interior communities. Together.
  2. After decades of hard-won progress expanding health coverage to the vast majority of America’s children, we are now sliding perilously backwards. An estimated 4.3 million children were uninsured in 2018—425,000 more children than the previous year. The efforts of the Trump administration to undermine proven health insurance programs has resulted in more children unable to access the care they need to stay happy, healthy and ready to learn. At the same time, the threat of the public charge rule and the anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies of the Trump administration most certainly contributed to this troubling trend, as many immigrant families have likely removed their eligible children—many of them U.S. citizens—from the health coverage they need out of fear of repercussions.
  3. Despite more than 400 mass shootings in 2019, the Senate has failed to enact common-sense gun violence prevention legislation. Between routine gunfire and mass shootings, our national obsession with guns continues to result in the senseless and unnecessary death of a child or teen every 2 hours and 34 minutes. However, the Senate has refused to consider meaningful gun violence prevention measures to ensure all children, regardless of where they live or the color of their skin, can grow up free from violence.
  4. New cases of measles in the U.S. broke a 25 year record. In 2019 the U.S. saw the most measles cases in since 1992 despite the MMR vaccine eliminating measles in the US in 2000. Due to vaccine hesitancy, misinformation, and barriers to accessing care, measles cases surged to crisis level, leading the WHO to list “vaccine hesitancy” as one of the top threats to global health in 2019.
  5. As part of the Trump administration’s assault on low-income children and families, they approved a rule that has officially weakened SNAP and will take food off of hungry children’s tables. USDA published a final rule that will impose time limits and work requirements for SNAP and is estimated to result in nearly 700,000 people losing benefits. This rule is just one of the Administration’s many attempts to take food from hungry families.

Five Things We’ll Be Watching For in 2020

  1. Will the Trump administration uphold non-discrimination rules? In late 2019, HHS published a proposed rule and notice of non-enforcement of important Obama-era non-discrimination protections. This proposed change would allow child welfare organizations to exclude children from programs or turn away caring and able potential foster and adoptive parents based solely on their religion or sexual orientation. We have condemned this change in the strongest possible terms and will continue to speak out against this taxpayer-funded discrimination as it will further harm children who have already experienced trauma.
  2. Will the landmark 1997 Flores court settlement be upheld? The Trump administration is appealing the federal court decision to uphold the Flores settlement. In 2019, a federal judge rejected the administration’s attempt to dismantle the settlement governing the standards of care and protections for immigrant children. In the new year, CDF will continue to support the Flores counsel through this appeal and speak up in defense of the health, well-being, and education of children in detention.
  3. How will the Supreme Court rulings on landmark cases, such as those over DACA and LGBTQ employment protection, impact children and families? Rescinding DACA would increase the risk of family separation and cause development, emotional, and economic harm to the more than a quarter of a million children who have at least one parent who is a DACA recipient. Ruling that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act does not bar discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity would not only harm the individuals experiencing workplace discrimination and unemployment, but would also put their children at greater risk of child poverty and harms to their health and well-being.
  4. Will Congress expand access to paid family and medical leave for all? At the end of 2019, Congress passed a bill that includes a paid parental leave policy for all federal employees that will allow 12 weeks of paid leave for parents of newborns, newly adopt children, or foster children. We are hopeful that this will be followed by a federal paid family and medical leave policy in the new year that will allow all parents, regardless of their employer, to welcome new children into their families or care for sick loved ones without worrying about losing their jobs or not being able to pay their bills.
  5. Will candidates running for office in 2020 put forward strong plans to support children and families and commit to ending child poverty now? We have been thrilled to see some of the candidates running for president put forward child-specific policies aimed at improving the odds for America’s children. In addition to policies on important issues like child health, childcare, education, and gun violence prevention, we are hopeful more candidates will share their plans to address the specific needs of the 1 in 6 children living in poverty in the US.