10 Critical Threats to America’s
Children in the New Millennium

The National League of Cities, the National School Boards Association, Youth Crime Watch of America, Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital and the National Association of Child Advocates are the players in a coalition of leaders detailing what they call the “10 Critical Threats” to America’s Children.

“This report is not about doom and gloom,” said Clarence Anthony, president, National League of Cities and mayor of South Bay, Florida. “The solutions are feasible if we work together.”

Nina Tucker, administrator, Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital, said that “every segment of America must recognize these 10 critical threats and must address them… to ensure a healthy generation for the new millennium.”

Dr. Arnold Tanis, pediatrician, said that today’s children “are faced with a multitude of problems, most of which are beyond their control. Improper nutrition, a lack of affordable, quality health care and… child care are just some of those problems. We want to see these issues addressed, and one way to do it is to make people aware of them and begin a national dialogue.”

Mary Ellen Maxwell, NSBA president, said, “the problems confronting our children truly are challenges to all of America. Either we meet those challenges or they will become obstacles to our future.”

All the threats in the report are documented by research that included interviews with experts and up-to-date data from distinguished child advocacy organizations, government agencies, professional associations and media sources.

The National League of Cities will make the report available to municipal officials and community leaders.

The numbering of the issues does not denote rank within the report; together they represent some of the most chronic and pervasive risks to America’s children.

1 the plague of poverty

One in five American children lives in poverty. As a result, their lifetime contribution to the economy will decline by an estimated $130 billion because poor kids grow up to be less educated and less productive workers. Children growing up poor are much more likely to experience an array of problems regarding their health, emotional well-being, school-readiness and achievement — and their employability as adults.

Solutions: Programs that help working poor parents gain better access to child care and health care and expand access to higher education and capital can help. There is also a need for: higher family incomes, obtained by raising the minimum wage; better outreach efforts by subsidized programs and better enforcement of child support payment laws.

2 abuse and neglect at home

The legacy of child abuse and neglect is seen starkly in the experiences of the 25,000 to 30,000 young people who leave foster care each year to take on the responsibilities of adult life, either by reaching 18 or by being emancipated. Within one year, 25 to 40 percent experience homelessness, only 40 to 50 percent will have completed high school, less than half will have jobs, and over 60 percent of the young women will have babies within four years.

Solutions: We must offer more quality out-of-home care for abused children and streamline the adoption process to provide children a sense of permanency more quickly. We must also address the drug and alcohol problems of adults that often fuel episodes of abuse and neglect.

3 violent crime

Violent juvenile crime arrests in America have fallen 25 percent since 1994, in part due to tougher laws. However, public concern remains high because of the volume and visibility of crimes involving children, both as victims and perpetrators. In 1997, law enforcement agencies made about 2.8 million arrests of youth under the age of 18.

Solutions: Parents and other supervising adults must take additional steps to make sure that guns and other weapons stay out of the hands of children. Schools and communities must offer more quality after school programs — for all ages — to ensure children are spending their time productively and not getting into trouble on the streets. Promoting parental involvement at schools and community are other ways of preventing juvenile crime.

4 dangerous escapes

The 1998 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse showed that overall, illegal drug use declined among young people ages 12 to 17 from 1987 to 1998. However, that followed a dramatic rise from 1991 to 1996. The teen years are also a time of sexual experimentation. More than half of girls and three quarters of boys under age 18 are sexually active and each year, three million American teens are infected with AIDS, HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

Solutions: The most effective way of preventing drug, alcohol and tobacco use is by educating parents, teachers and school-aged children about the signs, symptoms and dangers. Parents can influence their children by not using harmful substances themselves. Youth should receive information from their parents and their communities that supports their decision to abstain from sex.

5 children having children

Every year in America, one million teenage girls become pregnant and more than half give birth. Studies have suggested that 43 percent of all teenage girls in this country will become pregnant at least once before they reach the age of 20. According to a report by the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine, more than 80 percent of teenage pregnancies are either mistimed or unwanted.

Solutions: Although teen pregnancy and birth rates have declined in America, they are still far too high. Youth should receive information that supports the decision to abstain from sex and be encouraged to ask their parents or other trusted family members for information. Human service professionals must be better trained in issues of teen pregnancy prevention.

6 inadequate child care

About 65 percent of mothers with children under 6 years old and 78 percent with children between ages 6 and 17 are in the labor force, creating a necessity for affordable, quality child care, but that can be difficult to find. An alarming percentage of the child care in America is poor to mediocre. One four-state study found that 40 percent of the rooms serving infants in child care centers were so poorly run that they actually put at risk children’s health, safety and development.

Solutions: Polls show many Americans support additional tax breaks for enrolling their children in child care. Schools and communities can also establish scholarship funds to assist families who need help paying for child care. Public and private sectors must step up to the challenge by fully funding quality programs.

7 absent parents

In many families today, it is necessary for both parents to work, making it even more difficult for parents to know what their children are doing, whom they are hanging around with and what they are thinking. Every day, nearly 5 million children come home to an empty house because their parents are working, and in many instances, there’s nothing parents can do about it. It is during the 3-7 p.m. period when crime and victimization peaks in America.

Solutions: Parents must understand what messages in the media are influencing their children and be prepared to talk through sensitive subjects. They must take time to ensure, as best as possible, that their children are engaged in supervised, healthy activities.

8 lack of health care

In 1988, an estimated 11.1 million children under 18 had no health insurance. The percentage of children not covered by health insurance has been on the rise. In 1998, 15.4 percent of children had no health insurance; in 1992, 12.4 percent of children were not covered. Children suffering from untreated illnesses often are not ready to learn, and thus, struggle to keep up in school. One study found that uninsured children were 25 percent more likely to miss school than kids who were insured.

Solutions: Accessible, affordable and comprehensive health care for all children is critical to ensuring the societal health of America. Until that happens, we must preserve the federal guarantee of Medicaid for all poor children, taking additional steps to enroll those children who are eligible yet not participating. We must improve Medicaid benefits and broaden health insurance coverage for uninsured children, and oppose efforts to sacrifice good coverage for wider, inadequate coverage.

9 new pressures in the classroom

America’s elementary and secondary schools face a variety of complex challenges in educating our children in the new millennium. With spotty academic performance in overcrowded classrooms, continuing high dropout rates and threats and fears of violence on campus, children face pressures never seen before in the classroom.

Solutions: Schools must receive adequate levels of state and federal funding to improve academic scores for all students and reduce class sizes, as well as adequate resources to provide for increasing numbers of students enrolled in special education programs. Parents, schools and communities must work cooperatively to identify at-risk students and direct them to alternative learning programs to prevent them from leaving school.

10 dangers in the environment

Every day, children are exposed to known carcinogens, neurotoxic substances such as lead and mercury and potentially dangerous pesticides. These substances can lead to serious developmental problems in children, and in extreme cases even death. Lead, mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are among the substances suspected of having harmful and perhaps permanent neurological effects on children.

Solutions: For our children, we must work to protect the air we breathe, water we drink and the land we live on. Communities should dedicate additional resources toward surveying older homes - particularly those of the poor - to determine if lead-based paints are endangering children. Pesticide makers should better educate parents about the potential health risks of common pesticides used indoors and out.

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