Tag Archives: Children

Congressional Priorities – Corporations Over Abused and Neglected Children?


Where are our priorities?  If you look at what is happening in Congress, you will be reminded (again) that they are in the wrong spot!  Last week on Tuesday, April 29th, the House Ways and Means Committee convened and adopted seven different bills.  Six of the seven addressed the tax code and extended certain business-related tax deductions.  These six tax bills cost approximately $310 billion over ten years and were approved by the Committee without any requirement that the bills show an offset of cost savings.

Then, there was the seventh bill, the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Improving Opportunities for Youth in Foster Care Act (HR 4058). This is the bill that brought my attention to what was going on in our Capitol on a seemingly random Tuesday in April.  This bill was the only bill addressed that day that did not address the tax code AND it was the only bill that required at least some of its costs be offset.

To reiterate and make clear – our government could find billions of dollars to extend tax breaks to businesses, but, when trying to spend a few million dollars to try to help kids that are abused and neglected, those advocating for the change are going to have to find a way to pay for it.  What kind of priority is that?  What does that say about us?  If the saying, “put your money where your mouth is” holds, true, I’m hearing our Congress say we care way more about helping businesses than we do about helping the most vulnerable in our society.  Is that true?  I’m getting sick just writing it.

Certainly our current cast of characters in Congress would tell us that there is an offset of fiscal benefits to the economy such as more jobs and more taxes coming in from providing businesses with tax breaks.  There is likely some truth to that.  But $310 billion worth of benefits over 10 years?  I’m not buying it.  And, let’s compare that to what was argued over in HR 4058.  Before it could pass, a section of HR 4058 had to be removed because it was projected to cost approximately $12 million over the same 10-year time period. The section would have required state child welfare agencies provide a young person leaving foster care with a Social Security card, birth certificate, health information and in some cases a bank account. Wouldn’t providing youth the appropriate documentation and support upon leaving care lead to better education and housing outcomes for kids and ultimately more of these youth working and paying taxes too?

The way these seven bills played out highlights the winners and losers on Capitol Hill.  It is a reflection of who is in charge of the House and where their priorities stand.  I choose not to stand quietly and to instead put voice to my concern – our children are the most valuable asset to our country.  Let’s treat them that way!

Author: Christina Riehl is a Senior Staff Attorney at the Children’s Advocacy Institute.

It’s Just Kindergarten – Is Attendance Really That Important?


Many families do not prioritize attendance because they may not appreciate the high marginal value of every school day, the dangers elementary school truancy and absenteeism create for their child’s long term success and opportunities, and that school attendance is legally required.  However, elementary school provides a brief window in which to teach children the fundamental skills they will need to lead productive and happy lives.  It is where we diagnose a child for vision, hearing or learning impairments.  Above all, it is where we build a foundation for academic success and set children on a path to good health and economic security.

Late last month, California’s Attorney General, Kamala D. Harris released a new report, “In School and On Track, The Attorney General’s 2013 Report on California’s Elementary School Truancy and Absenteeism Crisis.”  The Attorney General announced that this is only the first of several reports.  Because the link between elementary school truancy rates can be so closely correlated with high school dropout rates and crime rates, California’s Attorney General’s Office will produce annual reports tracking truancy and chronic absence in elementary schools across the state.  Many of the statistics of the Report are simply jaw-dropping.  For example, did you know that high school dropouts cost California $46 billion each year?  A summary of the report’s key findings is below:

School Budget Impact of Truancy

  • School districts lose $1.4 billion per year based on student absences because school funding is based on student attendance rates.
  • San Diego County Schools lost almost $95 million in the 2010-2011 school year due to absenteeism.  That equates to $211.20 per student that was lost over the course of the year.

Dangers Truancy Creates for Your Child

  • Truancy (being absent or tardy by more than 30 minutes without a valid excuse on 3 occasions in a school year), especially among elementary school students has long-term negative effects.
  • Students who miss school at an early age will fall behind their classmates.  Students who miss a lot of school in the early years are likely to become disengaged from their studies and struggle academically, develop behavior problems and, in later years, to drop out of school entirely.
  • First grade students with 9 or more absences are two times more likely to drop out of high school than their peers who attend school regularly.
  • For low-income elementary students who have already  missed 5 days of school, each additional school day missed decreased the student’s chance of graduating by 7%.
  • High School dropouts can be predicted with 66% accuracy based on attendance data in the third grade.
  • According to one study comparing the scores of more than 600 kindergarten students on a school readiness exam and a 3rd grade reading test, students who arrived at school academically ready to learn but then missed 10% of their kindergarten and first grade years, scored an average of 60 points below similar students with good attendance on 3rd grade reading tests.  In math, the gap was nearly 100 points on tests with 400 points possible.
  • Increasing graduation rates in California by 10% would result in 50,000 additional graduates annually, 500 murders prevented each year, and 20,000 aggravated assaults prevented each year.

Truancy is Against the Law

  • Truancy is against the law.  California’s Compulsory Education Law requires every child from the age of 6 to 18 to be in school – on time, every day.
  • Because of the long-term negative effects of elementary school truancy, there is currently a statewide push for prosecutors to accept referrals for truancy prosecutions of parents when an elementary school child is involved.

About the Author: Christina Riehl is a Senior Staff Attorney in CAI’s San Diego office. She conducts litigation activities; performs research and analysis regarding CAI’s legislative and regulatory policy advocacy; assists in the research and drafting of CAI special reports; and serves as an Educational Representative under appointment by the San Diego Juvenile Court. Before joining CAI, Riehl worked as staff attorney with the Children’s Law Center of Los Angeles, where she represented minor clients in dependency court proceedings. Prior to that, she interned with the Honorable Susan Huguenor, formerly the presiding judge in San Diego Juvenile Court. Riehl is a graduate of the USD School of Law, where she participated in the CAI academic program. 


A Call for Childcentric Philosophy and Politics


I have long been a registered Republican, but now find both parties to be unacceptable sources of reliable policy for children and the future they represent.

Both parties, but particularly the Democrats, are amassing unprecedented future obligations for our children and their children, primarily for the care and comfort of my generation — the Boomers.  We are, in contrast to the Greatest Generation of our parents and grandparents – perhaps the most self-centered grouping of adults in American history.  The Social Security benefits we have not paid for, and the Medicare deficit – financing everything from joint replacements to Viagra – portend trillions in future obligation.  The amount in under-funding there, adding in the smaller federal deficit, rises to above $60 trillion within the life of those children now being born.  Merely the interest on that deficit at 5% will be almost half of family income – before other taxes.  But liberals will not talk about it, and even conservatives avoid mentioning the two most costly programs, preferring to blame food stamps or other investments in children that are trivial in amount and have some ethical basis.  Beyond that, liberal ideology favors “top down” bureaucracy, services performed by those with “caseloads” (relegating even foster children to too many institutional caregivers), and dependence on public employee unions.  Add to that the politically correct tolerance for infinite adult license – including abandonment of a child’s simple right to be intended by two people.

At the same time, we have a Republican Party that has forgotten its roots, and now serves as tribalistic defenders of privilege and excess.  They are self-indulgent takers who worship words like “freedom” and stand tall before the flag, but forget that those hitting the beaches at Iwo Jima were sacrificing for all of us.  Of course we best respect individuality (which makes their lemming-like group obeisance to each other rather ironic), but we also know we are a community.  A lot of people, strangers, and including those Marines through history, have contributed to where we are now.  And yet we don’t pay attention to the children the state seizes for their protection,we don’t invest in the children of all of us, and we even go so far as to defend a system of health care that means if a child is ill, an uncovered family risks likely bankruptcy if she spends more than a few days in a hospital.  My Party has become an ignorami tool of monied interests, and is at least equally irresponsible.

Conservatives do favor use of the market to allocate resources efficiently, recognizing it as a presumptive means of efficiency and of “bottom up” economic democracy.   On the other hand, current conservatives fail to heed their own economic theorists who identified market flaws needing correction, including natural monopolies, imperfect information, and external costs. As to the last, these costs occur where the market fails to assess damages imposed on others, such as a product that causes sickness or a manufacturer who pollutes to ruin fishing downstream.   The market is an important construct, but it is fashioned by humans and influenced by rules of liability and mankind created inequities.  It is not a deity. Indeed, the classic Renaissance satire of Candide by Voltaire skewers the “Optimist” philosophy that all that happens is perfect because God controls all and wills it.  Neo-conservatives largely replace “deity” with “the happenstance of the current market” in their equally vulnerable worldview.  The market is a useful human construct with rules about who is liable for what costs that the market may or may not assess by discretionary decision, e.g., rules of liability, public assessments, criminal prohibition or any number of influence-factors.   Such “external costs” can include health consequences that are caused by a product’s use, environmental harm to others or other costs to be borne by those in the future.  Environmental depredations, now at unprecedented levels, the consumption of limited resources and other policies that sacrifice those in the future for present comfort – these are costs that may be prevented through straight prohibition or other adjustments not requiring “licensure regulation” or other “prior restraint” intervention.

They may also be addressed through fees.  These amply supplement the market while retaining its efficiency features.  Such fees would be set to measure the costs of denial or harm to future generations.  They should start low to allow recovery of existing sunk cost investment, but should increase substantially in an advance-noticed format as time passes to allow for the efficient reallocation. This mechanism recognizes future costs and internalizes them through market forces efficiently amended (or corrected) by those assessments.  The revenues from those fees could then ameliorate the harm — while the external cost continues to accrue damage, and to stimulate approaches that are less costly to those who follow us.  Accordingly, global warming and the consumption of the earth’s limited supply of carbon could be ameliorated through an international carbon fee starting low, but accelerating in amount as years pass. The revenue would be used for solar power or other external benefit subsidy, or to ameliorate the damage from removal and damage during the interim period where damaging exploitation or production continues.

The lodestar for all of us is the supervening obligation owed to those who follow us in the millennia to come.   It is interesting that we all have such acuity in seeing the selfishness, irrationality and cruelty of our predecessors (whether the inquisition, slavery or unjustified wars).  Our point of view in making systemic decisions should be as follows:  What will be the future view of it and of us in five or more centuries.  Our founders risked much for us.  How will those who follow us in 250 years view our record?  We have been impressive in communications, transportation and computer technology.   But that may not be the crucible of future ethical judgment.

Exacerbating the child-friendly reform of American public policy is the influence of corporations and the decline of democracy.  In particular, Citizens United   egregiously equates these statutorily created “persons” with human persons in their political right entitlement.  But corporations consist of collections of capital devoted to some invested purpose, and with officers and lobbyists necessarily (and properly) serving the present financial interests of stockholders funding it.   Such a focus is not itself a criticism – that is what they are intended to do.  But that persona is very different than that of a human directed democracy.  The latter is properly controlled by individuals who are concerned about diffuse and future interests. The corporation necessarily seeks to “free ride” for maximum profit, and to take exhaustible resources or impose costs on others or on the future—particularly where it serves the protection of the capital investment that is its necessary lodestar.   That bias is intended and may manifest much advantage in productivity.  But elevating such entities to the enhanced political rights of humans pushes the needle radically in a direction against those who are unorganized and who depend upon future commitment.  Those interests were already at risk before the elevation of corporations for purposes of political contribution and influence.  Indeed, CAI has been lobbying for children for 23 years in Sacramento and in D.C., and we know that legislative bodies are increasingly passive.  Even the language of modern civics reflects the change: the “sponsors” of legislation are no longer the legislators introducing it, but the interest groups actually writing it.  And the negotiations are undertaken by “stakeholders.”   Children are often absent.  They provide no votes or campaign money.  They are diffuse and represent future interests, the place you kick the can down the road to. They have few advocates; in fact, the elderly lobby AARP alone spends 25 times as much on lobbying in D.C. as do all child advocates combined.

We have work to do and we face difficult odds when confronted by two parties who have largely abandoned children, except for photo ops and rhetoric.  We need to resurrect a strong sense of ethical imperative to measure all that we do under a primary lens:  What are we passing onto our legatees?

About the author:  Professor Robert C. Fellmeth is a tenured law professor at the University of San Diego (USD) School of Law and is Founder and Executive Director of USD’s Center for Public Interest Law and its Children’s Advocacy Institute. He is the holder of the Price Chair in Public Interest Law at the USD School of Law, one of two such chairs in the nation.

The Achilles Heel of Liberalism: Unfunded Liability for Future Generations


By Professor Robert C. Fellmeth

Most child advocates are aligned with political liberalism.  Some of this is the result of a conservative trend toward radical self-indulgence – the notion that the greatest good comes from categorical withdrawal of government.  The concept here is akin to the idea skewered by Voltaire in the classic essay “Candide.”  The religious zealots of his time embraced the idea of “optimism” – all is right with the world no matter how it appears or which loved one has just cruelly died – because God controls all and He must have willed it.   We have some conservatives who adopt a similar idea about the current market – whatever it produces unconnected to state interference is “the Good,” and any alteration is “interference” with that grand design.

Of course, the market is largely a creation of man, and of particular humans often seeking the protection of the wealth they inherited.  There are clear advantages to a functioning market – bottom up determination of outcomes, efficiency incentives, allocation according to consumer preference, et al.   But there are also flaws, and the state properly intervenes to restore its function absent those flaws, or adjusts it to ameliorate them.   And one flaw is the need for humanity to “pass down the line” the achievements of each generation to the ones that follow it – a goal involving long term impacts often missing from market assessment and incentive – unless it is provided either through the rules of the market (which are created by man) or by additions to its previous design.

But the irony of this meritorious critique of conservatives is that – as to a major aspect of intergenerational equity – the conservatives seem to recognize a market flaw that is unseen by liberals.  The latter are rather infected with the malady of the Dire Straits lyric “Money for nothing, and chicks for free.”   In the middle of their blind spot is the undeniable fact that we of the Boomer generation are imposing a series of unfunded liabilities on our legatees that is unprecedented in human history.

There are two types of pension/medical plans: “defined contribution” and “defined benefit.”   In the former, one deposits money in an account and then benefits are drawn on its value later.  That is an ethical arrangement.  Those who benefit, pay.  In the latter, one promises a level of benefits, and then provides them at a later time – whatever their cost and whatever the amount deposited by the beneficiaries to provide them.  This last alternative has been increasingly exposed for its seminal flaw: the imposition of a possibly untenable obligation on future generations to provide promised benefits.  Liberals often talk of the “obligation” to pay social security and MediCare benefits to those who contributed money for both.  But it is a Big Lie, for they have not contributed close to the amount promised and expected in benefits.

Former Comptroller General David Walker projected in 2008 an accumulating deficit, including Medicare and Social Security, at over $52 trillion in unfunded obligations (at current taxation/collection) over the next three generations.    These and related obligations (Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and debt interest) already subsumed 48% of the federal budget in 2006 and now make up the majority of it.  Discretionary spending has declined from 67% of the budget in 1967 to less than 38% today.

And it now appears that the overall unfunded liability projection has been overly conservative.  More recent data suggest that the total projected debt may not be $52 trillion, but over $60 trillion.  Those additions include a $4 trillion increase in the national debt since the 2006 data used by the Comptroller General, and the pharmacy and other benefits now going to the elderly in Medicare.  Moreover, this last source is especially likely to push the actual total well over $60 trillion, since it comes from a source of irresistible growth with little to moderate it.    Indeed, subsidies for the elderly are cast as “their right live, and with dignity.”  (Similar sentiments do not appear to persuade when applied to the 8 million uninsured children at 1/7th the per capita cost).  Any limitation on medical benefits to those in their last several years of life as “rationing” health care, or government “death panels” that will kill Grandma.  Our point is not that benefits should not be provided, perhaps generous benefits, but that we should PAY FOR THEM, and not assess our children – just as our parents did not assess us, they rather invested heavily in the rebuilding of Europe, in our defense, our parks, our highways and airports, and our education.  We got college at low tuition and home ownership.  What are we passing on to them? The answer: less of that but a mind-boggling public debt so they will finance our care and comfort.

Nor does the likely federal “unfunded liability” of $60 trillion plus from Medicare, Social Security and federal budget deficits include unfunded, sometimes extraordinarily generous pensions for local and state employees,  utility workers and others with substantial presence in state capitals.  During the last months of 2011, a Stanford University study counting the unfunded liability for public employee pensions placed California’s total (counting not all of them) at $500 billion.   And none of this includes other financial embezzlement from our children, such as California’s system of property taxation based on  the “market value” of the property, but which caps that taxable value at just above 1977 levels for the Boomers, so they effectively pay now 1/5th to 1/10th the property taxes as do new buyers (our children).  A Boomer owned home will pay a fraction of the taxes as will his child buying a home next door with the same market value, for the same state and city services.

Nor does it include the new “back end” bond practice of funding schools and other public capital projects not over 20 years so that $100 million borrowed will cost $180 million in total to repay, but in schemes that pay it off in 50 years (after whatever is financed will likely be gone or obsolete) with the payments all loaded at the back end, and requiring not $180 million to finance $100 million now, but $950 million or more.  All to be paid by our children and grand children.

Forgetting about all of these deeply unethical state and local deferrals, how much is $60 trillion to be due from the federal funds?  Consider how much $1 trillion is.  Take $ one million every day since the birth of Christ, through the Roman Empire, the Medieval era, the Renaissance, the Age of Discovery, and the independence of the United States 235 years ago… that $ one million every single day, week after week, month after month, year after year, century after century.  As we sit here today, the total would not reach $1 trillion.  It will take almost another one thousand years to reach it.  Think about that.

The federal and state debt for the Boomers and their children will require our grandchildren and their children to spend well over $25,000 per household per year in current spending just to carry it (without reduction) at a modest 4%.  That amounts to about one-half of the family median income – before other taxes.  Can such a disaster actually be in the offing?  If so, why is it only discussed by expert economists in obscure reports or neo-conservatives – who themselves avoid two of the real cost sources (Social Security and Medicare) and blame it all on the federal deficit and public pensions?  But all four of these generational sources of “takings” are involved.  And the two exempt from complaint (MediCare and Social Security) are by far the largest.

Changing demographics in terms of longer lives and smaller families make these future consequences both more likely and of greater concern.   A much reduced population of young and producing adults per elderly beneficiary will now be paying their unfunded liability – adding to that burden for this smaller number.  The pyramid allowing four or five persons in productive adult years to pay for each senior citizen is narrowing.  It is less a graduated pyramid than a Washington’s Monument spike – with a lot of weight on the bottom blocks.

Adding to the concern is the disastrous consequence of either another economic downturn or even a small increase in required interest payments to finance these current and future deficits.  A 2% increase in the amount needed to attract investment in the government bonds that provide the backing for all we print would have a momentous impact on the amount we shall owe for its repayment.  And as uncertainty about full repayment grows, that interest rate will rise, exacerbating the cost, further jeopardizing repayment, and producing the kind of spiral that we do not seem to recognize until it happens.

How ironic that the major source of current security for the U.S. is the full faith and credit from the People’s Republic of China, a totalitarian regime.  Our officials rightly warn of the pitfalls of dependency on Middle Eastern nations and the OPEC cartel, but less attention is paid to our supine posture before the nuclear weapon-holding Communist regime that is now our largest national creditor.  The share of U.S. debt held by foreign investors was 28% as recently as 1996.  It is now over 50%.

Child advocates properly have a long range perspective.  We essentially represent the future.  And we measure the merits of policies by imagining how our grandchildren and their grandchildren will judge what we are doing now.  Liberals like to think that is what they do.  Not on this seminal and defining issue.  Not at all.


Children and Youth Deliver Clear Message to President: Hear Our Voice!

in the leavesCROften ignored in the political discussion, America’s young people are asking that their voices be heard in Washington, and they delivered heartfelt messages to the President in an “Inaugural Address” of their own.

In a video message: “Hear Our Voice: A Children’s/Youth Inaugural Address,” kids aged 5-25 list college affordability, gun control, hunger, health care, and K-12 education among the issues that they want President Obama and Congress to address in the new term.

The video is not scripted, and features genuine youth voices filmed in elementary, middle and high schools in Washington, Boston, and New York. It also includes individual videos uploaded by youth across the country.

The video can be seen and downloaded at: www.sparkaction.org/inaugural or http://bit.ly/kidsinaug. Please take a look and share! And upload your own messages to the President!

The video is a co-production of the Children’s Leadership Council (CLC) and SparkAction.

“America’s young people are asking that their voices be heard in Washington. They want to know if the President is listening, if we are all listening,” said Caitlin Johnson, co-founder & managing director of SparkAction, a journalism and advocacy site to mobilize action by and for young people. “Young people are savvy future voters. They not only see the problems in their communities, they have solutions. We applaud policymakers for listening to their concerns and giving them a chance to share their ideas, and hope this sparks more of that.”

The video concludes with a call to give youth “a seat at the table,” by creating a Presidential Youth Council. Such a Council will give young people—using their first-hand experience with systems like education, child welfare, juvenile justice, public health and school lunch programs, etc.— opportunities to bring the issues they care about directly to policymakers in Washington, and help shape the policies and programs that affect their lives.

“As President Obama lays out his plans for the next four years, young people ask him to take action on the issues that are most important to their lives,” Alan Houseman, the Chairman of the Children’s Leadership Council, the nation’s largest coalition of child and youth organizations, based in Washington, DC. “You can see in the video that they are very concerned not only about their own future but also about the future of their friends and families.”