“What the country doesn’t have yet is a strategy for kids,” Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) said at a breakfast gathering last Wednesday with actress and children’s advocate Jennifer Garner and Save the Children senior vice president Mark Shriver. True, but the pieces are there for one.

Garner was in town to lend support to two bills introduced by Casey and Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), the Prepare All Kids Act and the Starting Early, Starting Right Act. While the first bill would boost funding for pre-K programs, the other bill would increase the federal childcare development block grant to improve the quality and make child care accessible to all who are eligible.

“Only 1 in 7 kids that are eligible for child care in this country actually get it,” Shriver said. Casey put those numbers into context. “That amounts to 13.5 million children eligible for child care under current law and not receiving it,” Casey said. “The population of Pennsylvania is hovering around 12.5 million. That gives you an idea of the dimension of it.” Stressing the importance of early education, Garner said, “If you’re 4 years old growing up in poverty, you’re 18 months behind right then already from the get-go, which means by the time you hit Kindergarten you’re screwed because you’re playing catch-up.” Early education is “the [biggest] thing to bridge this education gap, she added. “If we get in there early...we can help kids start kindergarten on two feet.”

Let’s Move! Child Care” is part of Michelle Obama’s effort to combat childhood obesity. By issuing a five-point checklist for child care centers and parents, Mrs. Obama is continuing her push to improve children’s nutrition and health.. In this age when video via television, telephone or iPad can shackle a kid into inactivity, I’m glad the first lady is advocating for limited screen time and increased play time.

Since Hurricane Katrina, Shriver has been worried about the nation’s disaster preparedness with regard to children. A 2010 Save the Children report card on “Protecting Children During Disasters showed that only 12 states meet its standards for readiness. The standards include having plans for evacuation and relocation, reunification, plans for kids with special needs in child care and a written procedure for disaster planning in grades K-12. As chair of the now-disbanded National Commission on Children and Disasters, Shriver worked hard to try to ensure that kids and their needs weren’t afterthoughts in disaster planning.  

For Shriver, his efforts and those of Obama, Garner and Casey are the pieces of a strategy for kids that Casey said was lacking. “A comprehensive campaign would increase accessibility, increase quality and would also make sure kids are safe and make sure they are healthy and are eating healthy foods,” he told me. “So, you have to have a multi-pronged approach.” And a lot of patience to see it through.