NASHVILLE - Advocates for children in Tennessee say the youngest Americans are being ignored so far in the presidential campaigns, and they're hoping that changes before November.
The group Every Child Matters says big business is steering the campaigns with multimillion-dollar attack ads, and the candidates are responding to those rather than focusing on families.
Every Child Matters President Michael Petit says kids need friends in high places, too, including in the Oval Office.
"Campaigns and elections cost a lot of money, and it's easy to ignore the needs of children who don't contribute anything, and it's hard to ignore those who are putting a lot of money on the table," Petit said. "And it means that children's issues are having a harder time than ever in punching through."
He acknowledged that the economy, unemployment and health care costs affect parents and kids. However, he notes there has been little discussion of poverty and related concerns, from inadequate child care to substance abuse and child abuse.
One of the group's priorities is legislation that Petit says has gotten little attention so far in Congress. It would convene an expert panel to curb deaths from child abuse and neglect, which he says are preventable and significantly under-reported.
"It would look at our nation's system of child protection, our social safety net as it exists for children, and make recommendations on how to build a child-protection system that allows children to thrive, instead of one that fails to protect children," he said.
He says there have been more child-abuse deaths in the United States than casualties in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars since those conflicts began, and more than 80 percent of those deaths are children under age four.
Every Child Matters has a new traveling exhibit that shows how the United States compares with other nations in terms of child welfare: Petit says the U.S. is slipping. The exhibit also highlights what past administrations have done to help children.
"Eliminating child labor, establishing school lunch programs, maternal and child health programs, immunization programs that have federal fingerprints all over them," he said. "So, what we're trying to do is show that kids still have these great needs, and that when we've made smart choices about investing in our kids, we've all benefited from the result of it."
The exhibit will tour the sites of the national political conventions in August and September and presidential and vice-presidential debates in the fall.