First Focus Calls for Greater Investment in Children

By Tara Mancini

Over the past 35 years, our nation’s GDP has increased by 168 percent, yet those gains are mostly missing from the picture when viewing from the perspective of the Child and Youth Well-Being Index (CWI).  Over that same time period, the quality of life for children has increased by just a little more than three percent on the CWI. This is particularly disparaging given the steep gains made in the late ninety-nineties. This message is one that is rarely heard in national budget debates, making last month’s Hill briefing from First Focus even more crucial as Congress continues to wrestle over budgetary cuts.

Released annually by the Foundation for Child Development and the Child and Youth Well-Being Index Project at Duke University, the CWI is a comprehensive index that measure how children fare in the US, dating back to 1975.  It is composed of 28 key indicators that are classified into seven Well-Being Domains: family/economic well-being, safe/risky behavior, social relationships, emotional/spiritual well-being, community engagement, educational attainment, and health. Due to the Great Recession, the most immediate impacts have been experienced in the Family Economic Well-Being Domain, and the decline in this domain is primarily attributed to the number of children living in families below the FPL.

The Family Economic Well-Being Domain also includes the rate of children in families with health insurance.  The baseline year for the measure is 1987 rather than 1975, as it is the first year that the US Census Bureau began collecting data on insurance.  The CWI shows health insurance coverage increased from 87.1 percent in the base year, to 90 percent in 2009.  Similar to the brief that CCF released last month on the children’s health insurance rates, the CWI also illustrates that the number of children covered by public health insurance programs have increased as those that are covered by their parents ESI have declined. This small piece of good news appears to be the only solace in the report.  The authors of the report also warn that if this slow economic recovery continues, Family Economic Well-Being will experience further deterioration. 


How can we stop our country’s stalled progress in providing for our future generation? The First Focus Campaign for Children is advocating for a children’s budget to fully account for all of the money spent on and for children. The federal government funds 180 children’s programs, some experiencing increases over the years, while others are cut; however, we have little sense of the overall trend. 


A First Focus analysis of 2010 Federal budget spending reveals that only 8.7% of spending went toward programs for children, who make up a quarter of our population.  A handful of state and local governments have already demonstrated their commitment to children’s lives by implementing this tool in their own budget process.  Enacting a children’s budget at the federal level would show our dedication to securing the future for everyone, even those without a voice in the process.

You can read more about the children’s budget and the First Focus Campaign for Children here.