“Poisoned water in Flint is an egregious example of how we disregard children and their promise. If kid-focused measures like child impact assessments had been in place, maybe our crisis could have been prevented.” — Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, Flint pediatrician & whistleblower
As we see the consequences of failing to consider the needs of young people — like the Flint water crisis and the devastating effects of the pandemic on youth — we require methods to ensure that children’s needs are front and center in the policymaking process. Child impact assessments offer a model that has worked well in other fields and around the world. That is why, after extensive research and experience, we are encouraging policymakers and leaders in cities, states, and communities across the country to consider using child impact assessments. And, we are helping them get started with “Using Child Impact Assessments in Your Community or State: A Starter Guide.”
Why now? Just ask any parent or any young person how things are going for kids today. You’ll quickly hear their deep concerns. Nearly every statistic related to our kids’ well-being has moved in the wrong direction since the beginning of the pandemic — health and mental health, food security, safe housing, and engagement with learning and with peers and mentors. In addition, longstanding racial inequities among children have been made even worse.
Unless our elected representatives take bold steps to reverse these trends, we risk denying an entire generation of young people the chance to reach their full potential.
Much like environmental and fiscal impact assessments, child impact assessments provide a step-by-step process for policymakers to systematically consider the effects of a proposed policy on young people and incorporate the results into their decision-making. Child impact assessments are being used in many other countries, but so far only two communities in the U.S. have tried them.
Even with their limited use, child impact assessments have shown their potential. In order to examine whether and how child impact assessments could improve child well-being in this country, Kids Impact Initiative undertook a year-long research project (2019). The research showed that use of impact assessments can bring two big benefits: ensure children’s interests are routinely taken into account when important decisions are made; and also help advance policies that are good for kids.
Based on these findings, along with our own experience using various child advocacy approaches, we believe the time is right to ramp up this strategy further in the U.S. Leaders at every level of government are making an extraordinary number of very consequential decisions as they take action to recover from the pandemic, spur the economy, and address deep-seated racial inequities. Impact assessments can help policymakers keep the nation’s 74 million children at the forefront as they make the difficult decisions ahead.
Equally urgent, child impact assessments can help promote racial equity in local communities and states. As a growing number of legislative bodies and government agencies analyze the effects of proposed policies on racial equity, child impact assessments can lift up the needs of children and youth of color, specifically, who, too often, suffer lifetime consequences from disparities in health, education, and opportunities in their early years.
Momentum is growing. Strive Together, All Children Thrive, and UNICEF USA’s Child Friendly Cities Initiative are already organizing in local communities to improve conditions for kids. And networks like the National League of Cities, Partnership for America’s Children, Government Alliance on Race and Equity, and Alliance for Early Success are also well positioned in local communities and states to be early adopters of child impact assessments. Child-friendly governors can also be pioneers of this promising approach.
Today, we face a juncture that will affect the health, education, and safety of U.S. children for years to come. Child impact assessments can help us meet the moment. We know, because we’ve seen their benefit: In 2011, Santa Clara County, CA, started using child impact assessments and still includes them in all transmittals that go to the County Board of Supervisors. A staff member sums up the effect: “Ten years ago kids’ issues were sidelined. Now what’s good for children is part of our culture in everything we do.”