Putting Children and Their Families First
Paragraph 161 of the Social Principles affirms that “We believe the family to be the basic human community through which persons are nurtured and sustained in mutual love, responsibility, respect, and fidelity,” and ¶ 162 affirms that children are “acknowledged to be full human beings in their own right, but beings to whom adults and society in general have special obligations” and that “children have the rights to food, shelter, clothing, health care, and emotional well-being as do adults, and these rights we affirm as theirs regardless of actions or inactions of their parents or guardians. In particular, children must be protected from economic, physical, emotional, and sexual exploitation and abuse.”
Growing up whole and healthy is increasingly difficult for children. They face weakening support systems throughout society, from home to school to church, at the very time they are struggling with unprecedented stresses. They are forced to grow up too quickly, to make significant life choices at a younger and younger age.
The percentage of children in poverty is the most widely used indicator of child well-being. Growth in the ranks of poor children in the United States during the past few decades is attributed to the growing ranks of the working poor. The number of children living in extreme poverty (income below 50 percent of the poverty level) rose from 8 percent in 2006 to 18 percent in 2008, and continues to rise (2010 KIDS COUNT Data Book).
Globally, children are increasingly at risk from the effects of poverty. In its State of the World's Children Report, UNICEF reported the Gross National Income of households in the least developed countries in the world as 1.43 percent of the Gross National Income of households of industrialized countries. Nearly 9 million children under the age of five die each year from common illnesses and malnutrition associated with poverty. Poverty undermines the health, abilities, and potential of millions more children.
Public Policy Implications
Too often we engage in public policy debate, make new laws and cut budgets and programs without putting the highest priority on how any change or policy will affect children and their families. In light of the critical nature of this issue, The United Methodist Church should press for public policies that:
1. Guarantee basic income for all families that include children;
2. Provide basic support services for families in economic crisis, including food and nutrition programs, crisis respite care, and home care services;
3. Mandate full and complete access to health and medical care, including health maintenance, prenatal care, well-baby services, care for minor children, and mental health services for all family members;
4. Assure safe and affordable housing for families without regard to number and ages of children; and
5. Safeguard protective services for children at risk of all forms of abuse.
Church Program and Policy Implications
Churches must strengthen and expand their ministry and advocacy efforts on behalf of children and their families. Every church and community needs a coordinated ministry that serves families with children in the congregation and in the larger community that works hand-in-hand with human service providers and ecumenical colleagues and that addresses the public policy concerns listed above.
The church has traditionally emphasized the integrity of the institutions of marriage and family and the responsibilities of parenthood. While these emphases should be maintained, a holistic ministry with families must, of necessity, be based on the broadest possible definition of family so that the great variety of structures and configurations will be included. Grandparents often function as parents, and many families are headed by single parents or “blended” through divorce and remarriage. Adoption, fostering, and extended family structures are among those that need the church's ministry.
Churches need to understand that all the problems described here happen to individuals and families inside the congregation as well as in the community. It is critically important that each congregation deal openly with the needs of its members and its community, and develop appropriate ministry responses for children and their families.
A network of child-serving institutions and agencies, from community centers to residences for at-risk children and youth, exists across the church. Many are local expressions of national or international mission, and others are related to annual conferences. These agencies meet critical needs and urgently require the financial, volunteer, and prayer support of congregations.
We Call upon The United Methodist Church to:
1. Generate a plan in every local church for assessing ministry with children (in the congregation and in the community) and implementing a vision for ministry with children and their families that takes seriously the facts and perspectives presented above. This plan is to be overseen by the official decision-making body of each local church.
2. Celebrate the Children's Sabbath in every local church each October. Utilize the resource manual developed annually by the Children's Defense Fund (www.childrensdefense.org).
3. Continue and strengthen a task force formed of persons from general church agencies who work on issues of child and family advocacy, in order to coordinate work. The task force is convened annually by the Office of Children's Ministries of the General Board of Discipleship.
AMENDED AND READOPTED 2012
RESOLUTION #2028, 2008 BOOK OF RESOLUTIONS
RESOLUTION #26, 2004 BOOK OF RESOLUTIONS
See Social Principles, ¶ 161A.
From The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church - 2012. Copyright © 2012 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Used by permission.