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The State of the American Child

Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) is hosting a series of hearings, beginning today, on “The State of the American Child.”  According to the Hartford Courant, “The hearings will be sweeping in scope, touching on every aspect of childhood, from birth to adulthood.  The goal is to provide a comprehensive look at the issues faced by children and families so that Congress can draft legislation to address their needs.”

Though that sounds a bit vague, there’s no need to worry about whether or not Dodd’s intentions are good.  The senator helped launch the Senate’s Children Caucus in 1983, which “championed early childhood education, funding for child care programs” and helped pass the Family and Medical Leave Act law in 1993, allowing workers time off to care for a new baby or a sick relative.

Dodd, whose days in the senate will end in January, says he’s most enjoyed “working on the children’s issues, child care, family leave … after-school [programs], Head Start. Those issues have given me the greatest sense of satisfaction from a public policy standpoint.”

Dodd said in his opening remarks today that “while Head Start has proven to be effective in preparing kids for kindergarten, it serves less than half of eligible children, and Early Head Start serves only 6 percent of eligible kids.”  He hopes to change that.  As I’ve mentioned previously, my four-year-old daughter has attended Head Start for the past year-and-a-half, and she’s benefited from it immensely.  She can read Dick and Jane books all by herself now!  (I never went to pre-school, which is maybe why I’m immature enough to laugh every time she says the male protagonist’s name.  Sigh.)

While illuminating what he believes to be “children’s issues,” Dodd said, “every 101 minutes, a child in the United States dies from an unintentional injury, such as a vehicle crash or a fire, making it the leading cause of death and disability for children ages 1 to 14 in the United States,” echoing what Dr. Robert Brent told me Friday when discussing summertime safety.

So, Dodd announced, he plans to “introduce legislation to create a national commission on children, in order to regularly and closely examine the needs of American families and identify solutions.”  I think that’s a great idea, but in addition to creating a commission on children, it seems we’re in need for more specific legislation on issues affecting children, don’t you think?

For example, after reading about the 2-year-old Milwaukee boy who accidentally shot and killed himself with his mother’s handgun this weekend, I’d love to see more legislation regarding gun ownership.  But that day seems like it will never come in the land of the second amendment.  What issues to you worry are affecting your kids?

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