Children’s Defense Fund: Advocating for Children for Forty Years

By Bryan Dooley, Senior Writer

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When most people think of the late 1960s-70s, they think of racism, social unrest, and violence. However, it was during this same time an organization called the Children’s Defense Fund formed. It was devoted to tolerance, harmony, and the well-being of every child in America regardless of race, creed, or economic status.

“CDF is the child of the transformative struggles for civil rights and economic and social justice in the 1960s,” said Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Children’s Defense Fund in a Huffington Post blog.  “This 40th CDF anniversary year marks  America’s struggle to overcome its huge birth defects built into the implementation of our political and economic system: Native American genocide, slavery, and exclusion of women and non-propertied White men from America’s political process.”

Edelman worked with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as a lawyer in his “Poor People’s Campaign” defending the rights of people in poverty. She also accompanied then–Senator Robert F. Kennedy (D-N.Y.) on a tour of the Mississippi Delta. Kennedy, shocked by the extent of poverty, urged Edelman to persuade King to bring the poor to Washington. Tragically, both men were assassinated before this could happen.

Edelman next began the Washington Research Project in 1969. Shortly after, she founded the Children’s Defense Fund.

Marian Wright Edelman
Marian Wright Edelman

“The CDF was founded in 1973 to make all children the focus of national attention emphasizing that there were and are more poor White than Black, Latino, Native American, or Asian children although children of color tend to be disproportionately poor,” said Edelman, “But we always pay special attention to the most vulnerable and poorest children who have the least voice.”

CCE students, many of whom are parents and/or work with children, appreciate the importance of protecting children’s rights as CDF has done every day for the last 40 years.

“As humans, children have rights just as any other individual (adults),” said Marion Jones, a CCE junior, in an email interview. “They do not have the capacity to know what is in their best interest or how to obtain it; since they cannot facilitate doing that, we as adults must take care of them.  This usually rests on the shoulders of parents, other adults. In some cases, agencies/court systems must step in and facilitate.”

“I believe that it is necessary to protect our children’s rights,” said Sarah Dreier-Kasik, senior CCE SGA president, in an email interview. “Our children have the right to receive basic needs of food, shelter, love, good health, and education. We have the responsibility as parents to guide our children to be upstanding citizens of this country, but to do that, our children need to have a good foundation upon which to build their future.”

The CDF advocated for expanded education in 1974 and fought for expanded Medicaid coverage in the 1980s.

More recently, the CDF mobilized hundreds of grandparents and other relatives who were raising children for a national GrandRally, to continue the same fight. And it shows no sign of stopping the fight for the rights of children.

According to their website, the organization believes that right now our nation has the ability to end child poverty and to guarantee every child and pregnant woman comprehensive health and mental health coverage and services.  The CDF also strives to protect every child from abuse and neglect, connect them to caring permanent families, and provide high quality early childhood care and development programs for all children.

The CDF seeks to ensure every child can read at grade level by fourth grade.  And the organization also seeks to guarantee quality education through high school graduation as well as stopping the criminalization of children at increasingly younger ages by pushing the government to invest in prevention and early intervention.

“On our 40th anniversary, CDF is committed to continue planting and watering the seeds for the next transforming nonviolent social justice movement our nation and children need by pursuing justice for children and the poor with urgency and persistence,” said Edelman. “I hope you will join us.”

More information about the organization and how to get involved can be found at their website:  http://www.childrensdefense.org

*Editors Note* The CDF celebrated its 40th anniversary on September 30.

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