First lady Laura Bush will convene a White House Conference on Helping America’s Youth this coming fall, as part of her effort to focus attention on the needs of young people, especially boys.
“Researchers, policy experts, educators, parents, and community leaders will discuss the best way to help children avoid risky behaviors and build successful lives,” Mrs. Bush said last week in Pittsburgh at the Community College of Allegheny County.
The March 7 event was the first in which she and President Bush appeared together to promote her Helping America’s Youth initiative. (“First Lady Embraces Cause of Youths at Risk,” Feb. 23, 2005.)
“I’ve listened to a million of his speeches,” Mrs. Bush said after being introduced by the president. “Now he’s going to have to listen to one of mine.”
While the administration called the planned gathering the first-ever White House conference “on helping America’s youth,” the White House has hosted several major conferences over the past century designed to shape American policy on children and public education.
The White House conferences were held at roughly 10-year intervals, with the first, in 1909, led by President Theodore Roosevelt. It examined the needs of destitute and neglected children, and led to the creation of the Children’s Bureau, a federal agency devoted to promoting children’s welfare. The bureau today exists under the Department of Health and Human Services and focuses on foster care, adoption, and child-care standards.
Other notable conferences include one on child-care standards in 1919, after President Woodrow Wilson declared 1918 the “Children’s Year” to inspire support for safeguarding American children during the First World War. Under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, a 1940 conference focused on how a democracy could best serve children and how children could be helped to grow into the kind of citizens who would preserve democracy.
The last such event was the White House Conference on Child Care in 1997, when President Bill Clinton focused on the first three years of a child’s life and the importance of child care. At that conference, child-development experts, medical professionals, and directors of local programs met to share scientific findings on how children learn and how best to provide enriching care for them. As a result of the discussions, Congress in 1998 approved a children’s health-insurance bill that expanded Medicaid to cover 3 million previously uninsured children.
A version of this article appeared in the March 16, 2005 edition of Education Week