I found this speech researching a novel I am writing about the effects on children of the Great Depression.  It was given in 1939, at the White House Conference on Children and Youth. It was delivered as part of the fourth such conference, the first taking place in 1909, the last in 1971. Interestingly, the last conference, which was convened by President Nixon, ended in a Colorado blizzard, which necessitated the mobilization of army troops to supply the attendees with supplies. Thirty two years earlier, Franklin Roosevelt spoke the words I have excerpted below.  Though spoken towards the end of the Great Depression, they express concerns that, as parents and teachers, we still have today.

It is not enough, however, to consider what a democratic society must provide. We must look at our civilization through the eyes of children. If we can state in simple language some of the basic necessities of childhood, we shall see more clearly the issues which challenge our intelligence.

We made the assumption that a happy child should live in a home where he will find warmth and food and affection; that his parents will take care of him should he fall ill; that at school he will find the teachers and tools needed for an education; that when he grows up there will be a job for him and that he will someday establish his own home.

As we consider these essentials of a happy child our hearts are heavy with the knowledge that there are many children who cannot make these assumptions.

We are concerned about the children of the unemployed.

We are concerned about other children who are without adequate shelter or food or clothing because of the poverty of their parents.

We are concerned about the children of migratory families who have no settled place of abode or normal community relationships.

We are concerned about the children of minority groups in our population who, confronted with discrimination and prejudice, must find it difficult to believe in the just ordering of life or the ability of the adults in their world to deal with life’s problems.

We are concerned about children living beyond the reach of medical service or lacking medical service because their parents cannot pay for it.

We are concerned about the children who are not in school or who attend schools poorly equipped to meet their needs.

We are concerned about the children who are outside the reach of religious influences and are denied help in attaining faith in an ordered universe and in the fatherhood of God.

We are concerned about the future of our democracy when children cannot make the assumption that means security and happiness.

Hopefully, we will learn to see through the eyes of children in 2011. My best wishes during this holiday season.  May we all have a bright and hopeful new year.

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