MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN of the Children's Defense Fund took what may have been the most effective possible stance the other day when she announced the current social goals of ther organization. Referring to "the basic survival needs of American children" and the fact that these needs "are not now being met for millions," she listed four pieces of legislation currently moving along in either the House or Senate that CDF would be supporting in the months ahead. This effort, she said, would concentrate on specific goals - "modest, realizable and cost-effective" - that may be attainable in this Congress if a strong enough rally is made by such groups as CDF, public officials who deal with childrens' policy and families themselves.
The legislative agenda of CDF begins with the child-welfare provisions of HR 7200, a bill that has already passed the House and that is now awaiting action by the full Senate. Since some 500,000 children live away from their families, the House version would among other things, require states to establish a number of protections for foster-care children. The second bill involves a package of amendments spent by the Carter administration to Congress last April for the Child Health Assessment Program intended to "expand and improve" the current Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnosis and Treatment program. As administration officials realized, the legislation needs to be revived, if only because it has been reaching less than one-fourth of the 13 million children eligible under Medicaid. Even a smaller percentage of eligible children are served by Head Start, which is the third concern of CDF. The program, one of the successes begun in the mid-1960s by the Johnson administration, is in the process of being refunded by Congress. For several years, Head Start was standing still at about $475 million. Last year, CDF rallied support for the program and helped to increase the funding to $625 million. The administration is now asking $680 million, though CDF believes that another $230 million is worth trying for; that would increase services from 20 percent of the eligible children to about 27 percent. Finally, the fourth piece of legislation involves supporting the administration's requested increase for Title 1 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, HEW's main education program for disadvantaged children.
Since each of these bills is alreadt advancing, the work of CDF lies as much in keeping the momentum as in debating the particulars. This is often the essence of advocacy: the unglamorous follow-up work that provides the final push for one bill or another. In this case, all the pro-family and pro-children reports, seminars, commissions and conferences mean little unless strong support is present when Congress makes its choices.If the "modest, realizable and cost-effective" goals of CDF are reached this year, perhaps the victory will be larger than anyone now imagines. Surely, it will move us a little closer to what our children deserve.