Linda Morris introduced speaker Jay E. Berkelhamer, MD, a Senior Physician Advisor at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, Clinical Professor at Emory, Adjunct Professor at Morehouse and a general pediatrician.
"Shaping an Agenda for Children"
Dr. Berkelhamer says he has become increasingly concerned about the welfare and well-being of children in the United States. As examples, he said that the U.S. ranks next-to-last in child well-being; that 30 percent do not complete high school; and that the infant mortality rate is rising. "Our elderly fare fairly well in this country economically, but 21 percent of our children are at or below the poverty level," he said.
According to the 2010 UNICEF report on the state of the world's children, the U.S. finished 20 out of 21 of the world's most developed or industrialized countries. England was ranked 21st, and Dr. Berkelhamer says this is because that country is struggling with the same sorts of issues as the U.S. The UNICEF measurements are based on material well-being, nutrition, health, safety, and education.
In 1997, the America's Promise Alliance (www.americaspromise.org) was founded as a response to the Presidents' Summit for America's Future, attended by Presidents Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford. Nancy Reagan represented President Ronald Reagan. General Colin Powell is the founding chairman of America's Promise Alliance, and his wife Alma Powell is the current chair. The Five Promises are developmental resources and support systems that children need for success in life: Caring Adults, Safe Places, A Healthy Start, Effective Education, and Opportunities to Help Others. Nobel Prize laureate James Heckman has said that if kids get four to five of the Promises, they do well, but that two-thirds of America's children are living without "enough Promises" and 20 percent receive none at all.
Commenting on two of the promises, Dr. Berkelhamer said, "Sixty percent of jobs in this country require a bachelor's degree. This country will continue to fail economically if we don't produce an educated workforce. Most Americans are in favor of health care for children [whose families can't afford it], but public programs don't reflect these expressed preferences."
Dr. Berkelhamer said that "The Way Forward" is to invest in kids early; focus on those most at-risk; invest in kids holistically; and engage all sectors of society. "The bottom line is advocacy on the community, state, national and international levels," he said.