Presidential candidates are quick to complain that an extended campaign means giving the same rote answers to the same rote questions, the same stump speech to the same political reporters.
But if the candidates take advantage of this time, the campaign is actually an opportunity to have a discussion about a national crisis that, to date, has gone under the radar: how our next leader plans to care for the hundreds of thousands of at-risk children and families across the country.
The current challenge is twofold.
First, the federal government is struggling to make its budget work. That means elected officials from both sides of the aisle are looking for cost-savings opportunities, and those primarily come from cuts to social and children’s services. At the same time, failures of basic institutions, such as families and schools, mean that children are fending for themselves at a younger age. In short, the family protective system has fewer and fewer resources to support children who are tougher to handle at increasingly younger ages.
The result shouldn’t surprise anyone. The foster care system today is essentially a black hole for the nearly half a million at-risk children. Law enforcement may remove a child from an abusive environment, for instance, but the system then shuffles — and reshuffles — the child between three or four foster homes. Each of these environments has its own rules and each culture change deprives the child of a third and fourth chance at stability.