Five Freedoms For America's Children

Throughout America, children lack health care, economic security, education, adequate nutrition and safety. In the 21st century, every child in America should have the freedom to reach her or his full potential.

As Americans, it is our solemn obligation to help families ensure every child has the support they need, yet we have failed them time and again. In our political system, the best interests of children are often invoked, but rarely provided for. Over time, corrupt forces have perverted the basic notion of freedom, while creating a government that works for corporate interests rather than our children’s best interests. The promise of opportunity and freedom for America’s children must be an urgent societal and governmental priority. As Former Governor Bob Casey of Pennsylvania wrote,

Only government, when all else fails, can safeguard the vulnerable and powerless. When it renegs [sic] on that obligation, freedom becomes a hollow word. A hard-working person unable to find work and support his or her family is not free. A person for whom sickness means financial ruin, with no health insurance to soften the blow, is not free. A malnourished child, an uneducated child, a child trapped in foster care - these children are not free. And without a few breaks along the way from government, such children in most cases will never be truly free.

All of our Nation's children deserve freedom and the opportunity that comes with being truly free. In the 21st century the guarantee of freedom must be more than a goal; it must be a matter of national policy.

In 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt articulated this expansive vision of freedom in his “Four Freedoms” speech, in which he described his vision for a post-war world based on freedom of speech and expression, freedom of every person to worship God in his or her own way, freedom from want and freedom from fear. Roosevelt's four freedoms are no less relevant in today's international order than they were as the world sought to respond to the totalitarian horrors of the 1930s and 1940s.

President Roosevelt also recognized that children have specific needs and requirements that compelled a policy response that is appropriate to those needs. Child advocates remind us that children are not just small adults. In another speech, President Roosevelt said, “We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.” Preparing our children for the future, giving them the freedom to develop into the persons they aspire to be, requires a renewed and deep commitment on the part of our country and our policymakers. It requires policies and investments that are commensurate with our commitment.

For decades, we have underinvested in our children. A children's strategy that reflects the value of our Nation's youngest citizens must move first away from harm, beyond neglect, to a proactive model which allocates resources to where they are most needed and which puts in place the conditions under which children can be truly free.

In the 21st century, it is time that we revive the true meaning of freedom for all citizens, and especially for our children to give them a fair shot to achieve the future they deserve. To that end, this document sets forth a detailed plan to secure the blessings of freedom for the children of today and tomorrow. This plan identifies five basic freedoms that our society must guarantee to our Nation's children, and recommends policy changes to ensure those freedoms for all children:

Freedom To Be Healthy

Every child in America should have quality, affordable health care. This proposal recommends automatic Medicaid eligibility from birth through age 18.

Freedom to Be Economically Secure

Every child in America should have the opportunity for economic security, and to earn a living wage when they reach adulthood. This proposal recommends expanding the Child Tax Credit and allowing parents to claim it monthly; and it proposes the creation of children’s saving accounts, seeded annually with $500 in government contributions, that children can later use in pursuit of a post-secondary education, home ownership or a business enterprise.

Freedom To Learn

Every family in America should have access to quality, affordable child care and early learning programs. This proposal recommends an additional annual investment of $7 billion to expand affordable child care and early learning programs; an additional investment of $18 billion annually to ensure that Head Start can cover all eligible 3–5 year old children; and a substantial expansion of the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit to help working families cover the cost of child care.

Freedom From Hunger

No child in America should go to bed hungry or worried about their next meal. This proposal recommends enhancing automatic certification of more children for school meal programs, expanding universal school lunch and breakfast, and increasing retroactive reimbursement of school meals for eligible children who were not initially certified for school meals.

Freedom To Be Safe From Harm

Every state in the Nation should have the resources necessary to strengthen families, prevent child abuse and neglect, and investigate and prosecute crimes against children. This proposal recommends the following investments: $250 million per year in community-based child abuse prevention; $250 million per year for child protective services; and $250 million per year to state Attorney General offices to prioritize investigation and prosecution of crimes against children.

While this plan focuses on policies that are relatively specific to children themselves, policies related to the well-being and economic security of families are also critically important investments in children. Safe and affordable housing, wage policies such as the minimum wage, as well as paid parental leave, among many others, are all directly important for children and for their families.

The policies outlined here, working in conjunction with one another, will have a substantial and positive impac on the well-being of children. However, no proposal or document can reasonably cover all of the determinants of child well-being, nor propose policies related to each of them. Thus, the goal of the Five Freedoms for America’s Children is to reimagine our approach to public policy that affects children, and to create a framework to talk about those policies and how they address the needs of children in America.