The children are not alright.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic and economic recession, we were failing our kids on a whole range of domestic and international indicators of child well-being. Some of this was due to children being treated as an afterthought in policy discussions, but even worse, negative outcomes were also the result of systemic disinvestment in children or policy choices where cruelty to children was even intentional.

The Washington Post’s Petula Dvorak wrote that “America is failing its children” and said our treatment of children has been a “searing indictment of adult indifference.”

And the Post’s Colby Itkowitz outlined a litany of problems facing children and concluded:

When issues from guns to immigration to health care to foreign affairs are viewed through the lens of how they affect children, it becomes clear the young are an afterthought when it comes to public policy.

Even worse, these were all commentaries before the pandemic and economic recession. Unfortunately, things are much worse, as COVID-19 and its economic fallout are negatively impacting every aspect of the lives of children. Their voices, concerns, anxiety, hopes, and dreams should be listened to, fully considered, and most of all, addressed. And many of these outcomes are due to policy choices that are or are not made.

Yet there have been steps in the right direction. The American Rescue Plan Act made historic progress for children by enacting an expansion of the Child Tax Credit, the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit, and the Earned Income Tax Credit as well as large investments in child care, nutrition, rental assistance, child health, and more. According to the Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University, these changes could cut child poverty by more than half in 2021. These are remarkable and significant policy and funding gains for children in this country.

But we cannot let this progress stall. The needs of children continue to grow both as a result of the pandemic and of neglected investment for the past decade. Investments in our children deliver a tremendous return, improving their near- and long-term outcomes and healthy development, benefitting society and our economy.

As the New York Times’s Jason DeParle writes, “The National Academies [of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine] estimate that child poverty costs the country as a whole $800 billion to $1.1 trillion a year—4.0 to 5.4% of GDP—including lower adult earnings, worse health, and higher crime. The good news about a loss so immense is that it translates into a recommendation for investment: money spent on poor kids will likely be ‘very cost-effective over time.’”

We can and must do better by our children—both domestically and internationally.