Among the 24 industrialized nations in the world, the U.S. stands out with its history of no positive public federal policy for children. The only protective federal child policy in America is its Imminent Harm Doctrine, which allows courts to remove children whose lives are endangered by their parents.
Child protection systems in the U.S. are under resourced, poorly coordinated, with no meaningful studies or outcome based measurements to track success or failure.
Absent coordinated positive (1*) public policy for the care of children, America is now at the confluence of misaligned and mistaken public policies that are overwhelming its schools, mental health services, child protection services, juvenile justice services, and criminal justice systems. Failing schools, unsafe communities, and absurdly high rates of incarceration are just the tip of the iceberg.
Many Americans (including a significant proportion of legislators) see the tip of this iceberg and assume that they understand the deeper problem, which they will fix by lowering taxes, criticizing civil servants, harsh sentencing, limited juvenile or criminal justice rehabilitation, and a move towards privatizing prisons (and building more of them).
What many people are not seeing, and what is undermining the critical underpinnings of our civil society, is the correlation between healthy children and healthy citizens. Or, perhaps stated more directly, we are ignoring a thirty year explosion of traumatized, abused and neglected children growing up with serious mental health issues, unable to cope with school & work, or get by in their own community without intervention (incarceration), or services.
These children are graduating into their own new dysfunctional families, which are being followed by the next generation, and the next generation (exponential growth in this sector).
Dr. Bruce Perry gives credible argument to his research that if this is not addressed strongly and in a timely fashion, within 30 years, 25% of Americans will be special needs people.
After thirteen years in child protection services, I think Dr Perry is an optimist.
About three million children per year are reported to child protection services. Only recently have the services began to show up that could address the mental health needs of traumatized children (to date the services remain far short of addressing those issues adequately). The vast majority of these children are being prescribed psychotropic medications (Prozac, Ritalin, etc) without adequate mental health therapies.
It may need to be pointed out that children are not removed from their homes in this nation until they have been severely traumatized (these children need services). The World Health Organization defines torture as extended exposure to violence and deprivation. This is also my definition of child abuse.
50% to 75% of the youth in juvenile justice have diagnosable mental illness, with half of this population living with multiple, severe, and chronic conditions that get worse over time if left untreated. These statistics are the same for adults in the criminal justice system. There is no available mental health data for youth in child protection systems. If the data existed, it would mirror juvenile justice data.
America’s At Risk children form “a pipeline to prison” (Marion Wright Edelman, Children’s Defense Fund founder).
Minneapolis MN arrested 44% of its adult black male population in 2001 (with no duplicate arrests, 58% of these men went on to be rearrested for a second crime within two years).
The negative racial disparity among abused and neglected children in child protection systems, or schools, juvenile justice, jails and prisons besmirch America’s reputation to the rest of world.
As a guardian ad-Litem for Hennepin County for about fifty children over 12 years, I have witnessed multiple cases of untreated mental health problems of children traumatized by child abuse and the correlation with the dysfunctional lives that they go on to live as adults.
A Hennepin county judge has provided me with the psychotropic medications taken by the four and five year old children that she has guided through her juvenile courtroom.
I have witnessed and written about suicides by children as young as four years old.
The reliance this nation has on psychotropic medications for severely damaged children without concurrent mental health therapies is a failed public policy.
Maladjusted children become maladjusted adults.
A core assumption of invisiblechildren.org is that crime in the U.S. would evaporate if hopeless and gruesome childhoods that we are now propagating were addressed as if we meant to help children lead productive lives.
Significant U.S. data;
13 million prison and jail releases last year
13% of America’s black men can’t vote because they are felons
1 to 1.6 trillion dollars in crime annually (insurance cost estimates alone)
America has 5% of the world’s population and 25% of the world’s prison population
Almost all felons come through the juvenile justice system. There are at least six major American cities with adult black male populations that have ex felon ratios above fifty percent.
MN Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz states that 90% of the youth in juvenile justice have come through child protection services. That of course is not true in states with poor child protection services with no services, as there is no way to identify at risk children (and there are many such states).
**”If you define institutions by what they create instead of what they were designed to create”, then child protection services create dysfunctional human beings that will forever be a burden upon their community. These citizens will be disproportionately institutionalized and require services for most of their lives, and they will go on to raise families as dysfunctional and as costly to their community as they themselves were.
(**borrowed from Kathleen Long, Angels and Demons).
The U.S. stands out among the industrialized nations with the weakest of child protection policies. The Imminent Harm Doctrine allows courts to remove children from families from homes ONLY where their lives are in danger. Judges receive no special training to work in child protection court and many of them view the duty as onerous.
The expense of not investing in our very young children far exceed the longterm costs of dealing with that child and his or her actions and progeny to our community.
Besides, it is the right thing to do.
1*. This is one of many examples; as a guardian ad-Litem, it was my job to support the County in its attempt to remove four children from a father whose key problem with the County was that he could not afford day care, which would leave the children in the possible care of his crack addicted wife. The County maintained that it was good public policy (cheaper/less disruptive) to take these four children from their hard working and decent birth father and place them in foster homes than it would be to help him find affordable day care.
Day care workers are paid about the same as food service workers in America (the lowest paid employees in the U.S.). This is how we value children in America.
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As Pliny the Elder said 2500 years ago, “what you do to your children, they will do to your society”
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