2016 Strong Start for Children | January 2016

Actions taken the first month of 2016 will benefit children and youth across our nation. President Barack Obama’s recent Executive Actions will make our children and communities safer by promoting gun violence prevention and banning solitary confinement for juveniles in federal prisons. The U.S. Supreme Court decision just this week gave the hope of parole to all who have been sentenced to mandatory life in prison for crimes committed as juveniles.

The Children’s Defense Fund is also grateful to the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services and Acting U.S. Secretary of Education for issuing new guidelines and a toolkit making the strong connection between healthy children and student success. We were proud to see our important school outreach and enrollment work highlighted as a best practice in the toolkit. Here is the Month-in-Review.

President Barack Obama's New Executive Actions on Gun Safety
“Every single year, more than 30,000 Americans have their lives cut short by guns—30,000. Suicides. Domestic violence. Gang shootouts. Accidents. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have lost brothers and sisters, or buried their own children.” – President Barack Obama

Early this month CDF applauded President Obama’s announcement of new executive actions to reduce gun violence. These executive actions were designed to keep guns out of the wrong hands by clarifying the background check requirement; expanding enforcement of existing gun laws to make our communities safer; increasing mental health treatment and reporting to the background check system; and shaping the future of gun safety technology. By clarifying that a person does not need to sell guns in a traditional storefront to be “engaged in the business” of selling guns and requiring they be licensed and conduct background checks, the executive action would reach more of those who are selling guns online or at gun shows.

Read Marian Wright Edelman’s Child Watch® column, Guns Lethalize Anger and Despair, on how we must protect children, not guns.

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Promoting State Accountability so Every Student Succeeds
The U.S. Department of Education acted immediately after passage of the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) to solicit comments on what it should include in regulations and guidance for Title I of the new law. CDF emphasized the need for the Department to encourage states to promote both student outcomes and improved school climate, consistent with their obligations under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. Resource equity and engagement of parents, students and community leaders in promoting student accountability must also be emphasized. CDF urged immediate action to clarify for state and local education agencies their new obligations to implement protections for students in foster care. Read CDF Policy Director MaryLee Allen’s comments on important steps in each of these areas. CDF worked with other national and state organizations to submit more detailed recommendations for regulations and guidelines on key civil rights protections, and implementation of the new protections for students in foster care and for those in or exiting from the juvenile justice system. For more information on the Every Student Succeeds Act, read Marian Wright Edelman’s Child Watch® Column The Education Inequality Struggle.

Hungry Children in Rich America
Today, Children’s Defense Fund-Ohio released a new report with an urgent call to action on Early Childhood Hunger. There is no excuse for any child to go hungry in our country, and this brief, The Early Childhood Hunger Imperative finds thousands of Ohio’s youngest children are being stunted by hunger every day. Can you imagine your 6-year-old digging through the trash at school to find food for his 3-year-old younger sister? That is exactly what CDF-Ohio discovered and unfortunately there are numerous children just like them. Please read and share this important new report and demand that political leaders at all levels do something about it. Here are a few of the key findings from the brief. Food Insecurity in young children increases the odds of negative health outcomes:

  • Nearly two times more likely to be in “fair or poor health;”

  • Two times as likely to have behavioral problems;

  • Nearly two times more likely to be at risk for developmental delays;

  • Three times more like to have stomach aches; and

  • Two and a half times more likely to have headaches. 

Once they reach kindergarten they are more likely to be behind in social skills and reading performance. As Renuka Mayadev, Executive Director of CDF-Ohio says, “While the school-age food supports of free and reduced price breakfast and lunch are critically important, waiting until hungry children are in school is too late.” Act now.

New Guidelines: Connecting Child Health to Academic Success
On January 15 Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell and Acting Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education John King issued a joint guidance letter and a toolkit of promising practices to spur action in school districts and health care systems across the country. The Secretaries urged state and local health and education entities to collaborate around five action items:

  1. Helping eligible students and family members enroll in health insurance;

  2. Providing and expanding Medicaid reimbursable health services in schools, including immunizations, health screenings and others;

  3. Providing or expanding services that support at-risk students, including through Medicaid-funded case management;

  4. Promoting healthy school practices through nutrition, physical activity, and health education; and

  5. Building local partnerships and participating in hospital community needs assessments.


The decade-long collaboration between the Children’s Defense Fund — and AASA (The School Superintendents Association) on a school-based child health outreach and enrollment model is now in the spotlight as a best practice to increase enrollment in health coverage for students and their families. Learn more about CDF’s work to expand child health coverage in Marian Wright Edelman’s Child Watch® Column, Keeping Children in School, Healthy and Learning.

A Winning Partnership for Children's Health
CDF and AASA have partnered with school districts first in Texas, then California, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi serving elementary through high schools and hundreds of thousands of Black, Latino, Asian and White students. As a result, many uninsured children have gotten health coverage. “In Texas we have seen the tremendous difference for child outcomes when there is a strong connection and support for children and families for access to health coverage through school districts. Superintendents, teachers and parents see the vital difference health care makes to keeping children in school and learning,” said Patrick Bresette, Executive Director of Children’s Defense Fund-Texas who participated in the joint Education and Health and Human Services announcement. Read the statement from CDF on these new guidelines.

Improving Academic Success for California's Children
A California law passed last fall requires schools to inform parents about health coverage and contributes added support for our school-based outreach and enrollment activities. The Mountain View School District in El Monte, like all CDF and AASA partner school districts, has added a question about children’s health coverage to the enrollment forms and taken additional steps. If families indicate their child is uninsured, the district follows up. Now more than 1,200 uninsured students in the district have been referred to insurance enrollment assistance. Students who have health insurance and dental insurance miss fewer days of school and are more likely to finish high school, graduate from college and earn more money than those who are uninsured, according to research cited in the Education and Health and Human Services guidance letter, including this 2014 paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research that tracked how children enrolled in Medicaid fared over time.

Progress for Juvenile Justice Reforms
This Monday, January 25, the U. S. Supreme Court gave new hope to offenders sentenced to mandatory life in prison without the possibility of parole for crimes committed as juveniles. In this new 6 – 3 decision written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the court requires its major 2012 decision to ban almost all life without parole sentences for juveniles to be applied retroactively. This means the possibility of parole for thousands who have been serving time behind bars, sometimes for decades.

That same evening, President Barack Obama announced new executive actions banning the use of solitary confinement for juveniles in federal prisons and severely curtailing its use for older prisoners. The announcement came in the President’s powerful OpEd in the Washington Post.

 Watch Samantha Levine's remarks

Earlier in January, New York Governor Cuomo released his 2016 budget and announced his legislative priorities for the year: Raising the Age of Criminal Responsibility in New York State was in both. CDF-NY’s relentless efforts with coalition partners to prevent children 16 and 17 from being automatically charged as adults will not stop until the New York legislature passes comprehensive Raise the Age legislation. New York needs to join the majority of states that treat children as children, an action that has been proven to reduce recidivism and improve public safety. Watch CDF-NY Acting Executive Director Samantha Levine discuss the Governor’s 2016 budget and legislative priorities.

Celebrate Five Amazing Beat the Odds® Scholars
CDF President Marian Wright Edelman and CDF-NY invite you to celebrate five extraordinary high school students in New York who have overcome tremendous obstacles, shown academic excellence, community leadership and desire to go to college. On February 29th at The Pierre in New York City we will celebrate the CDF-NY Beat the Odds® scholarship and leadership development winners and honor Roger Ferguson, LaTanya Richardson Jackson and Samuel L. Jackson for their commitment to CDF’s Leave No Child Behind® mission. Honorary chairs include Malaak Compton-Rock, Tonya Lewis Lee, Spike Lee, and Marva Smalls. Gala Co-chairs include Paulina Porizkova and Ric Okasek. Learn more about this year’s celebration here.

RSVP today for the 2016 CDF-NY Beat the Odds celebration. Unable to attend? You can still support the CDF-NY Beat the Odds scholarship and leadership development program by giving as generously as you can.

Thank you for your continued support of the Children's Defense Fund's Leave No Child Behind® mission. Your generosity helps CDF staff continue our work to improve the lives of all children in America.

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