Comment: Since we’re having more kids, how do we care for them?

We’re already making the investments to curb homelessness, hunger and maternal mortality, right? Right?

By Petula Dvorak / The Washington Post

With jubilant throngs dancing in the streets last week, waving signs declaring themselves “pro-life” as the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the agenda is surely going to turn to children, right? Right?

Because right now? Being a kid or raising a kid in America isn’t easy.

We’re finally going to mandate paid parental leave and put an end to our shameful position as one of only wealthy countries that doesn’t do so.

A Comfort Inn in suburban Maryland will no longer be home to some of the roughly 1.5 million American children in public schools who experienced homelessness last year, right?

Surely people proselytizing about the sanctity of life will turn their attention to protecting children beyond the womb who need safe, permanent housing.

It’s a no-brainer if you care about kids. Studies show that kids born into homelessness are usually underweight, chronically ill and underdeveloped.

“Homelessness is both a symptom and a cause of trauma for children, youth, and families,” according to a policy paper by First Focus on Children, an advocacy group in Washington, D.C. “Half of all homeless school-age children experience depression and anxiety. The earlier and longer a child experiences homelessness, the more dangerous it is to their healthy development.”

And even when they’re housed and stable, too many kids in America are hungry. Got room on your signs to talk about that?

“Many of the lines at food pantries that started forming at the beginning of the pandemic still have not disappeared, and rising prices are now stretching families’ budgets past their limits,” said head of the Children’s Defense Fund, Marian Wright Edelman, who has been working on America’s food insecurity problems for decades.

It hasn’t improved much.

In 2020, 6.1 million American children went hungry. So glad this is on everyone’s agenda now, because a nation that spends $1.5 trillion on the F-35 aircraft should feed its kids, too. But we can’t stop there, right?

Alas, a full belly doesn’t always guarantee health in the world of a child. They are petri dishes and get sick a ton.

So while you’re writing your congresspeople, remind them that America needs to finally mandate paid sick leave so Mom or Dad can stay home from work to care for Missy Snotsalot without missing another day of pay and spreading her germs all over the world.

“Our nation’s failure to provide a basic paid sick days standard has never been more apparent and workers and their families are paying the price,” according to the National Partnership for Women and Families. “More than 32 million people — more than one in four private sector workers — can’t earn a single paid sick day. No one should be forced to choose between their or their family’s health and a paycheck.”

Now that we’re all talking about kids, it’s time we make affordable, accessible health care a priority and not a political talking point. Whew. Because that was getting exhausting. We have an embarrassingly high maternal mortality rate; highest among wealthy nations. In 2011, the United Nations called it a human rights issue. With more than 23.8 deaths for every 100,000 live births, America is already a dangerous place to have a baby.

Once you have that baby, we have to talk about child care, which is a total patchwork system held together with cellophane tape and spiderwebs; regardless of socioeconomic status. My son, who just graduated from high school, is still on at least one nursery school waiting list.

This used to work in America. We did it once before: successful, comprehensive, quality child care. When all the Rosies had to go rivet during World War II, the government created a network of universal child-care centers so all those moms can work. Wartime child care.

The kids were educated and entertained in centers where a curriculum was designed by academics maximizing best practices in childhood development. They even sent working moms home with hot dinners so they didn’t have to cook after a hard day at work. Hallelujah that we’re going to do this again, with all the extra babies we’re about to have!

The American foster-care system has more than 400,000 kids; about 117,000 of them, many with special needs, will surely be adopted soon. Right?

Because the American youths of today, too, are wartime children. If an American child has managed to avoid hunger and homelessness, if Mom is alive and the family has child care, it’s still dangerous to grow up here.

The No. 1 killer of children in America is gunfire. It’s thrilling to know the folks who worked so hard to get abortion criminalized will now set their sights on keeping the children who have already been born safer.

Wait. What’s that you say?

The people dancing in the streets and celebrating their victory aren’t working on ways to make life better, safer, healthier for American children?

We thought this was about the children.

Petula is a columnist for The Washington Post’s local team who writes about homeless shelters, gun control, high heels, high school choirs, the politics of parenting, jails, abortion clinics, mayors, modern families, strip clubs and gas prices, among other things. Before coming to The Post, she covered social issues, crime and courts. Follow her on Twitter @petulad.

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