Last week I pretended to be a celebrity, thanks to an invitation to the President’s Conference–Tomorrow 2012 at Jerusalem’s Convention Center.
The conference brought together world-class experts in politics, finance, publishing, technology, communications, and Jewish thought from all over the world. Ayaan Hirsi-Ali was one of the most focused and self-possessed speakers I have ever heard. I enjoyed learning about economic decision-making from Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman and poor medical judgment from Dr. David Agus. I loved talking about Jewish writing at a special session for bloggers with Alana Newhouse, the editor of Tablet. But when choosing sessions I was disappointed to find nothing on children or families. There were no sessions on parenting, Jewish education, or marriage. There was not a single session on women’s issues. The closest were sessions on Jewish identity of young adults, Ruth Westheimer on sex, and last summer’s social protests.
I thought a conference called “Tomorrow” would have more to say about the welfare of children and families. You can see the full program here. I heard that Keren Leibovich, a seven-time paralympic medal winner and single mother of four, mentioned breastfeeding two sets of twins (not at the same time) while preparing for races. In the session on internet technology, one of the speakers mentioned the new international language, “internet,” that is being spoken by 15-year-olds. I’d be interested to hear if issues relating to families and children came up at other sessions that I didn’t attend.
While waiting for the special blogger sessions with with Yossi Vardi and Shimon Peres, I mentioned my concern to blogger Jennifer Gutman. Jennifer works in a hi-tech firm and hopes to have a large family one day. She is distressed when she sees anxious young mothers clearing their desks at 4 PM to return home to their children. Of course, they are the lucky ones—Jennifer works for a family-friendly firm. We all want women to play more of a role in business, academic research, and public policy. There is a push for the government to provide more day care for children and from younger ages. But we need to have a discussion about how to meet the economic needs of families and nations without sacrificing the needs of our nation’s, and our world’s, children. Before we can make policies we need to have accurate information about the following, just for a start:
- What are the costs and benefits–not just economic–of lengthening maternity/paternity leave?
- What should be the ratio of adults to children in daycare for different ages?
- What training should day care workers and teachers receive?
- What economic and social support will help young parents raise children in a happy and healthy environment?
- What are the factors affecting children’s health, including the rise in obesity?
If children are not cared for appropriately when they are small, we will pay a large societal and economic cost in the future. I urge the organizers of the President’s Conference to have a panel next year about the welfare of children. Here are some suggestions for speakers:
- Miriam Labbok, MD, Professor of the Practice of Public Health at the University of North Carolina with a focus on maternal and Child Health and a member of US Secretary of Health Advisory Committee on Infant Mortality. She served as Senior Advisor for Infant and Young Child Feeding and Care, UNICEF HQ.
- Professor Penina Klein, Ph.D. Professor of Education and head of the program in child development at Bar Ilan University. She won the Israel Prize in 2011 for research in education. She developed the technique known as Mediational Intervention for Sensitizing Caregivers (MISC), which was adopted by UNICEF and the World Health Organization.
- Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D. is the Senior Fellow of The Child Trauma Academy, a not-for-profit organization based in Houston (www.ChildTrauma.org) and adjunct Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences at Northwestern University School of Medicine in Chicago. Dr. Perry is the author, with Maia Szalavitz, of The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog, a bestselling book based on his work with maltreated children and Born For Love: Why Empathy is Essential and Endangered, was published in April of 2010.
- Sharron Zabbary, Ph.D, Immunology Researcher and member of the biochemistry department at Tel Aviv University. She regularly speaks on the properties of breast milk and the chemistry behind the early interactions between mothers and babies.
- Lawrence J. Cohen, Ph.D., the author of Playful Parenting and Mommy, They’re Teasing Me, a licensed psychologist specializing in children’s play and play therapy.
- Kathleen Kendall-Tackett is a health psychologist and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. Dr. Kendall-Tackett is Fellow of the American Psychological Association in Health and Trauma Psychology, and is President-elect of the APA Division of Trauma Psychology. She is a Clinical Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the Texas Tech University School of Medicine in Amarillo, Texas and Research Associate at the Crimes against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire. She was a founding Associate Editor of Psychological Trauma and is Editor-in-Chief of Clinical Lactation.