Balancing Work and Family Responsibilities
Today's families are often stretched thin - working to make ends meet while also trying to carve out time to care for their young children and aging relatives. To help provide flexibility for families, I have championed legislation that would expand after school programs, make high-quality childcare more accessible and affordable for working parents, and provide respite care for elderly individuals who are unable to care for themselves. I have also co-sponsored legislation that would ensure that workers can take paid time off when they are sick.
Improving our Child Welfare System
As First Lady I worked with Congress to establish the Adoption Incentives program, which has led to an 85 percent increase in the number of children adopted out of foster care. In the Senate I have continued to work to improve our child welfare system by supporting legislation that will further increase the number of children who are adopted out of foster care, increase the adoption tax credit, and help children in foster care to keep track of their medical and education records. I was an original co-sponsor of legislation that provides strong incentives to adopt older children and children with special needs out of foster care. This bill was signed into law on December 2, 2003. I also wrote legislation to support the more than 6 million children who, for a variety of reasons - some of them tragic - are being raised by their relatives instead of their parents. These kinship families face unique challenges, and I am working to help them.
Nationwide, more than six million children - 1 in 12 - are living in households headed by grandparents or other relatives. In New York City alone, there are over 245,000 adolescents already living in grandparent households. As caregivers who often become parents unexpectedly, these generous family members face unique challenges to successfully raising children. These challenges are physical, emotional and of course, financial.
That's why I reintroduced the Kinship Caregiver Support Act this year. This bill provides subsidized guardianship by giving states the option to use their Title IV-E funds to provide payments to kinship caregivers. The bill also establishes the Kinship Navigator Program and would require States to notify close relatives when children enter the foster care system. I was proud to stand with families and advocates this year at the GrandParent Family Apartments in the Bronx to underscore the urgent need to support the growing numbers of grandparents and other relative caregivers raising children.
We live in a rapidly changing world and have a lot to learn about how media affects child development. Media research can empower parents, teachers, families and communities to make more informed decisions about what is appropriate for children. That's why I reintroduced the Children and the Media Research Act, or CAMRA. This bill will create a single, coordinated research program at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development - the first-ever coordinated research center devoted to studying the effect the media has on our kids. This center would focus particularly on the impact of media on infants, an area that is widely not understood, and on the growing link between television viewing and childhood obesity.
I've also added a Media Safety Guide to my website to provide information and resources to parents looking to learn more about rating systems and other information to help them guide their children in today's media environment.
Increasing Access to Critical Services and Volunteer Opportunities
In an effort to improve access to government services and volunteer opportunities, I championed the Calling for 2-1-1 Act, a bill that will establish an easy-to-remember, non-emergency phone number to link individuals with the government services and volunteer opportunities they need. A 2-1-1 service is current underway in the Finger Lakes Region, the Hudson Valley Region and Western New York . It is my goal to make this service available throughout New York and the nation.
One of the many lessons that grew from the horrible tragedy of September 11th was the need for quick and easy information for people in need and for those who want to lend a hand. In a study of the aftermath of September 11th, the Brookings Institution and Urban Institute found that people had difficulty connecting with resources and desired a simple and efficient method to learn about and access services and agencies. The devastation of natural disasters Hurricanes Katrina and Rita further demonstrated the need to connect people to services quickly in a time of crisis. That's what 2-1-1 is all about: providing a single, efficient, coordinated way for people who need help to connect with those who can provide it.
I support building on the welfare reforms of 1997 by helping the neediest Americans obtain the support and skills they need to achieve self-sufficiency. I have strongly advocated for more resources for childcare assistance, greater access to education and training, and healthcare for people transitioning from welfare to work. And I believe that legal immigrants who work hard and play by the rules should not be penalized, as they are under the current system.
This year, I was pleased to announce that the Cameron Gulbransen Kids and Cars Safety Act, my legislation to protect children from injury in and around motor vehicles, was been signed into law. The Act is named for a two-year-old Long Island boy who was killed when he wandered behind the SUV his father was backing into the driveway. Nearly every other day, a child dies in a non-traffic vehicle accident. My bill will ensure that America's cars are properly equipped with safety technology to prevent unintentional harm to our children so we can have safer cars and safer children in New York and across the country.