Pensive Parakeet

Mitch Pearstein has some stunning and relevant facts and thoughts in his Elephant In The Room article (Star Tribune 11.8.2014.

That 2% of non-parental caregivers are responsible for half of all reports of child abuse by non-parents, points a finger at the screaming need for subsidized daycare (that we used to have in this state) and other missing family friendly policies.  That so many families (single parent or otherwise) can’t afford quality day care and work for companies without family friendly policies leaves few choices for poor families.

As a volunteer CASA guardian ad-Litem lobbying for the removal of children from toxic homes, I saw many examples of children left in the care of drunk/drugged uncles and boyfriends while a poverty or near poverty parental caregiver went to work each day.  These children are many times more likely to be abused, traumatized (and killed) than other children.

Life is better for children in “higher income two person households” and that to ”investigate and punish” moms and dads that molest and torture their children doesn’t fix the issue.  The fact that many families can’t afford quality daycare, have not access to crisis nurseries or mental health services rarely gets attention – things that would have far greater impact making health families than money spent on a punishment model.

If we value children as a community, let’s become like the majority of the other industrialized nations and make crisis nurseries, adequate mental health services and quality daycare a part of our culture.

It is mean and counterproductive for an advanced nation to build a child care system that leaves 3 and 4 year old’s in the care of unstable or dangerous people because there are no other alternatives (and on top of that, blame them for the very circumstances that are hurting them).

Our society simply doesn’t make quality daycare possible for a whole lot of children and Mitch’s premise about “higher income” in “two person households” sounds nice, but in this society with a significant and growing number of single and poor parents, this statement seems both meaningless and mean.

Societies that value children, make quality daycare and child friendly programs available to young families.  We know that healthy children grow up to be healthy adults and build a healthy community.  The opposite is also true.  No amount of prison and jail building can counter the impact of child abuse.

If only high income people get quality daycare for their children, more and more at risk youth will become more and more troubled adolescents/felons and preteen moms.  Institutional daycare in MN presently is just over $14,000 / year.  In some state’s the per day boarding rate for dogs was about the same as the per diem rate foster care families receive for caring for a child (think about that).  15 million American Children lived in poverty in 2016.

We are living in a community of fourth and fifth generations of abused and neglected children without parenting skills about to have the next generation of abused and neglected children.  Breaking the cycle of abuse could empty our prisons, create more happy productive families, and build a stronger and happier community.

Parenting and life skills do not come from the stork.  They come from a parent, or if the community steps forward, from programs and mentors provided by the community.  A two year old learns everything at home (and is a poor judge of “bad vs. good” behaviors no matter how toxic).

Without early childhood programs, parenting classes, and a supportive community, to speak of “intact married households” is just wind (or get a smarter/bigger stork).

From this guardian ad-Litem’s perspective, breaking the cycle of abused and neglected children delivering the next generation of abused and neglected children (soon to be drop outs, juvenile delinquents, preteen moms and felons).

These young families need programs and services that our community thinks are just too expensive to provide.  It’s a terrible mistake to believe we are saving money by skimping on early childhood programs or help to young families.  Many of my CASA guardian ad Litem state ward kids go on to spend much of their lives in jail & prison and welfare.

The cost to our communities and society comes by not providing services and not breaking the generational cycle of abuse and neglect that feeds high levels of mentally unhealthy children, delinquency, crime and unsafe neighborhoods.

It is the high percentage of the 4-5 million children reported to child protection in this nation each year that cost us in the long run.  Forty years a state ward is not uncommon in our communities today.

Art Rolnick’s study of 2003 at the Federal Reserve Bank well establishes the return on investment of early childhood programs but we the people care less about what we save than what things cost and we have almost no attention span for the long term thinking needed for solid public policy no matter how much money or ethics are involved.

Andy, one of my CASA GAL case children cost the State well over three million dollars by the time he aged out of foster care and that did not include the people he stabbed, teacher he beat up, or damage he had done to the 29 foster/adoptive families trying to help him while in child protective services .

Note, America’s adoptions are off by 69% since 2004* even as reports of child abuse annually have almost quadrupled during those years.  Our child protection and foster care systems are painfully inadequate for the deep and problematic well of traumatized children trying to claw their way to a normal life.

Andy is a young man today.  He is still a state ward, is proscribed very expensive AIDS medicine, and leads what most of us would describe as a very dysfunctional life.

Many of the families I worked with in child protection had three, four, five and in some cases seven children.  The financial burden on our society of not breaking the cycle of dysfunction within these families is exponentially more costly than almost any amount of money we could spend to give them the coping skills necessary to lead a productive life (and their future family’s ability to lead a productive life).

Because of this, life is less safe and less happy in so many neighborhoods today and America no longer rates well in the international quality of life indices bake off.

When compared to the 20 other industrialized nations we measured ourselves by for over twenty years.  And for too many years, the U.S. has about ten times the prison population, and ten times the crime and murder rates of almost all of these nations and our schools and health care systems are less competitive than many emerging nations.

This could all change if we were kinder to children (and it would be the right thing to do).

*September 2014 Harpers Magazine/Harper’s Index

 

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