Them Before Us is a nonprofit organization, founded in 2012, that fights for the rights of children, and aims to equip everyone to defend the rights of children over the desires of adults. The organization believes that so many of the problems confronting our nation and world could be solved if everyone adopted this child-focused view of human rights.
So argues founder and director Katy Faust in her new book Them Before Us: Why We Need a Global Children’s Rights Movement. Faust joins Traci DeVette Griggs on this week’s episode of Family Policy Matters to discuss her book, and how Them Before Us is fighting to reframe public policy debates through the lens of children’s rights.
“No amount of adult desire or longing or loss ever justifies forcing a child to sacrifice their fundamental rights,” says Faust. “And when it comes to marriage and family issues, that goes against pretty much everything our culture is promoting.”
Faust points out common phrases like “the right to choose,” “the right to marry whomever they want,” and “the right to parenthood,” are all so-called rights that put the desires of adults ahead of the true rights of children. Adults do not actually have a “right” to these things, Faust argues. “They may want them, they may desire them, they may be desperately pursuing them, but they don’t have rights to that.”
“All of these different issues, everything that has to do with marriage and family—polygamy, cohabitation, marriage, divorce, sperm and egg donation, surrogacy, even adoption—all of those issues are not separate conversations; they’re all one conversation, and that is, ‘Are you respecting, or are you disregarding the rights of children?’”
Tune in to Family Policy Matters this week to hear Katy Faust explain how Them Before Us is reframing these issues to focus on the rights of children.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. So many conversations about families today focus on the desires and perceived rights of adults, often at the expense of children. Experience and data are increasingly pointing out the flaws of this adult-centered mindset, and a new book hopes to reframe that debate.
Katy Faust is Founder and Director of Them Before Us, an organization devoted to putting the focus back on the fundamental rights and wellbeing of children when it comes to conversations about parenting and family. Katy began her public campaign to champion the rights of children in 2012 after she worked for the world’s largest Chinese adoption agency. She joins us today to discuss her new book, Them Before Us: Why We Need a Global Children’s Rights Movement.
Katy Faust, welcome back to Family Policy Matters.
KATY FAUST: Thank you, Traci. Thanks for letting me chat with your audience.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: I remember the first time I read about your very simple concept on looking at public policy issues concerning children and families through the lens of what’s best for children. It was actually a surprisingly clear way to make decisions on these very complex issues. So why do you suppose this is such a startling concept in our society today?
KATY FAUST: The concept is that children’s rights should come before the desires of adults. And when it comes to marriage and family issues, that goes against pretty much everything our culture is promoting, right? This idea that adults have a right to happiness. We use these kinds of terms like, “They have a right to choose;” “They have a right to marry;” “They have a right to parenthood.” But they don’t actually have a right to those things. They may want them, they may desire them, they may be desperately pursuing them, but they don’t have rights to that. But when we look at natural law, when we look at the largest treaty throughout the globe—the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child—we see that children have a right to their own mother and father, and social science supports that that is the best place for children to be raised, in the home of their married biological parents. And that concept is very threatening to any and every adult these days, whether you’re single or married or gay or straight. It insists that you conform to the rights of children, and that means adults have to sacrifice and adults have to do hard things. And that is probably one of the most counter-cultural messages in 2021 America.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: So how and when did this dramatic shift happen?
KATY FAUST: Well, I think that a lot of us kind of in the “marriage and family” world would look back at the dispute over marriage, the definition of marriage, and when gay marriage first started to be debated. But the shift actually took place long, long ago, back in the late sixties when we started passing no-fault divorce laws. You know, that is where we really started to hear the narrative, “Well, if the adults are happy, the kids will be happy,” or “Kids don’t need a married mom and dad; they just need to be safe and loved.” And that same kind of chorus has been echoed through every new iteration of family, whether it was the rise of single motherhood by choice in the nineties, through the reproductive technology movements—sperm and egg donation that was right on the heels of that—to the debate about the definition of marriage, now into issues like surrogacy. And so that legal and cultural shift has been underway for a long time, and as far as I can tell, there’s no slowing down, unless we can really, really start to articulate a compelling secular case for why every new iteration of modern family is really just code for child loss. You know, kids have to lose something to be in those families, and that’s an injustice.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: You just rattled off several issues this kind of thinking could have a profound effect on, but let’s take one. Could you just talk about third-party reproduction? Tell us how changing the way we think about the rights of children could affect how we think about this.
KATY FAUST: You know, usually we look at third-party reproduction, the use of sperm and egg donation or surrogacy. I think especially people in our world think about it from the perspective of, “Well, this is a way to help infertile couples have children.” And of course, those of us kind of in the pro-life world say, “Well, that’s great because we love babies. And so anything that brings about more babies or helps loving people have babies, how could that be a bad thing?” And then of course, we empathize with the infertile heterosexual couple who desperately wants a biological connection to a child. And so we say, “Well, of course it makes sense that you’d want a sperm donor because then you get to be pregnant and you get to have a connection with your biological child. And you know, really it’s love that matters, and if they’re being raised by a dad who’s not biologically connected to them, well, that’s no big deal.” And so when we look at it from the adults perspective, we think, “Well, sure, no big deal, it’s okay,” until you look at it from the child’s perspective, right? Until you recognize and read the stories of kids who were created through these arrangements. What we’ve tried to do, especially in our book, but in all of our work is highlight the harms and the damage that goes along with forcing a child to lose a relationship with one of the adults to whom they have a natural right—their father and mother at the moment of conception—and the identity crisis that many of these kids struggle with. The instability that results in their households, the feelings of commodification that they experienced, knowing that their conception was a monetary transaction, based on a monetary transaction.
And then of course, the often unseen harms. And that is the reality that only 7 percent of children created in laboratories will be born alive. When you actually look at the rights of children, their right to life, and then their right to their mother or father, we see that these technologies are not child-friendly, and no amount of adult desire or longing or loss ever justifies forcing a child to sacrifice their fundamental rights. So even when it comes to technologies like this—that we can be sympathetic towards—when we look at the reality of the harms of children, we realize this isn’t something that anybody in the pro-life or pro-family world should be endorsing. What we give you in this book that you’ve never heard before is the stories of kids who have had to live through it. And by the time you’re done, you realize there’s no way that I can support a lot of these new kind of family arrangements without understanding that kids are going to pay the price.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Why do you prefer to reframe this whole question rather than debate these conversations about family structure? What’s the value there?
KATY FAUST: I am happy to debate! Let’s make that clear, because we have the best research, we have the best studies, we have common sense, we have natural design, we have biology. We have the five major religions on our side when it comes to questions of the mother/father/child bond, and the importance of marriage between a child’s mother and father. But what we don’t want to do is play whack-a-mole with all of these different topics, right? And that’s a lot of times how conservatives, Christians, pro-lifers, pro-family people have responded, “Oh, definition of marriage? Well, let’s respond to that.” “Oh, and then here’s commercial surrogacy,” and that’s a different response. No, all of these different issues, everything that has to do with marriage and family—polygamy, cohabitation, marriage, divorce, sperm and egg donation, surrogacy, even adoption—all of those issues are not separate conversations; they’re all one conversation, and that is, “Are you respecting, or are you disregarding the rights of children?”
And so through the book, especially, we have really tried to offer people that simple lens. We don’t have to come up with all these different disparate responses. There is one question that needs to be at the forefront of our mind, and that is, “Are the rights of children being respected or not.” Because if the rights of children are respected in personal decisions and policy decisions, you are going to come out with the right conclusion every time. So that’s the lens that we try to give people when they’re filtering through these different questions about marriage and family.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Sometimes people see so many needs on so many different planes and they don’t feel like one small thing that they might do—writing a letter or going to visit a legislator—would have an effect, but it does, doesn’t it, when it all adds up?
KATY FAUST: It does, and there’s lots of ways to do this. Think of it this way: we have made incredible gains in the pro-life movement because we have focused exclusively on a child’s right to life. We can have that exact same kind of impact when we focus on a child’s right to their own mother and father. There are hundreds of incredible pro-life organizations out there fighting for a child’s right to life in the womb. Them Before Us is the only organization that is fighting for children’s rights on this side of the womb. This is the next frontier of the children’s rights battle. And we have made it easy, I hope, to see why this matters. We’re giving you the tools that you need to advocate, but also to have these conversations with friends, right? A lot of these conversations need to take place on your Facebook threads, and even in conversations with people at church or people sitting poolside with you or at soccer practice. We want to equip you to be a children’s rights advocate. And once you read the book, once you really are familiar with these arguments, these studies, and especially the stories of kids, you’re going to be armed, you’re going to be confident, and you’re going to be able to take this message to whatever corner of the world you inhabit. And that is really where the work’s going to begin.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: And of course, this is very important in regard to the health of children, but there’s more on the line as well, right? The decline of the family unit has been linked over centuries to the strength of our society, our civilization, hasn’t it?
KATY FAUST: Absolutely. We spent a little bit of time in chapter one where we outline why children have a natural right to their mother and father, and the harms that go along with mother and father loss. But then we talk about the harms that children experience: they’re at disproportionate risk for when they are, for example, fatherless—massive increase in child poverty, teen suicide, teen homelessness, teen incarceration, teen pregnancy, high school dropouts. I mean every single issue that we are spending millions and millions and billions of dollars fighting really comes down to, are you defending children’s rights to their own mother and father? And if you could remedy that, if children could be raised by their married mother and father, do you understand we would decimate nearly every social issue that we are facing today? And if you can’t do that, then you just need to resign yourself to building more prisons, spending more money on welfare, spending more money on anti-poverty programs, spending more money on public school counselors who are helping kids through all of these traumas, and failing. Because the reality is that no school, no headstart program, no prison, no amount of counseling can ever remedy this problem because the state cannot love a child. And that is what mothers and fathers provide, right? They are the best chance that a child is going to be loved, be safe, be protected, be provided for. So yeah, nobody’s going to get anything they want, neither on the left nor on the right, unless we can defend children’s fundamental rights to their own mother and father.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Well, we’re just about out of time, unfortunately, for this week. But before we go, Katy Faust, besides getting a copy of your book, where can people go to stay connected with you and see what you’re doing?
KATY FAUST: You can go to thembeforeus.com. At the very bottom of the homepage, you can subscribe to our newsletter and stay up on all of the different legislative efforts where we’re writing letters to legislators to make sure that they consider the rights of children. You can stay up on all the new stories we’re publishing, all of the news headlines that we’re covering. That’s a great place to just keep your knowledge fresh. The book is the best resource, that is where you will find the mountain of evidence and stories. And we’ve really tried to lay it out both as a book that is easy to read, but also as a reference. We really tried to take every major issue and question that has to do with marriage and family and put it right there in the detailed table of contents so you can go directly to the area that you need at that moment. We want you to be equipped; we want you to stay abreast of everything we’re doing. You can find us on Facebook and Twitter, but come to our website, subscribe so you don’t miss anything.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: And the name of that book is, Them Before Us: Why We Need a Global Children’s Rights Movement. Katy Faust, Founder and Director of the organization Them Before Us, thank you so much for being with us today on Family Policy Matters.