All Talk & No Action – Do We Value Children or Just Talk About It?
It hurts me to see political misunderstanding and an accepted practice of misleading people about something as vulnerable and precious as children. Reading the paper one would think that our problems in education, child protection and juvenile justice lie at the feet of service providers (teachers, social workers and foster parents to name the main scapegoats).
At election time, politicians make political hay blaming teachers for failed schools (with public support).
Institutional failures are not the fault of people doing the hard daily work of foster care, teaching or social work.
These folks work for a modest (often low) wage within a system designed by policy makers and administrators (most of whom are very well paid – not a bad thing, but a thing to remember when looking for the responsible party).
Blaming worker bees in child protection is just as wrong as blaming law enforcement officers for allowing terrible crimes. Can law enforcement sue policy makers and counties for making their work impossible? – we may soon see).
Most people involved in child protection find it dysfunctional and painful to be part of (foster/adoptive parents, child protection workers, court and justice personnel and poor children being served).
American day care workers are paid about the same as food service workers (the lowest paid people in the nation).
Our day care workers don’t have advanced education or mental health training yet they deal with behaviorally troubled children every day. Our daycare systems expel more children because of mental health and behavioral problems than other advanced nations by a significant factor.
Their children (other advanced nations) attend day care subsidized by the government and run by adults with advanced degrees and an understanding of mental health. Their children are ready to learn when they enter the public school system. Too many of our children are not.
In MN, our subsidized day care waiting list went from 34 to over 7000 these past ten years (after our prior governor lumped day care funding into the state’s general fund, insuring there would not be money for it). The costs of institutional daycare in MN are now over fourteen thousand dollars annually – way out of reach for low wage earners.
Smart nations understand that healthy children have the mental health and coping skills to become good students, healthy adults and productive citizens. Our nation continues to expand jails and prisons with the expectation that the dysfunction will go away at some point. I don’t think this is working.
For many years now, their children (the children in other advanced nations) have had access to mental health services beyond the administration of psychotropic medications when they need it. Our children are being fed mind altering Prozac type drugs at an alarming rate (without adequate therapy or oversight).
Our children are reported to child protection services in the millions each year and very few of them receive anything like the help they need to gain the coping skills to overcome their traumas. Many years as a volunteer CASA guardian ad-Litem have taught me how rare adequate and useful mental health services are for at risk children.
2/3 of our youth in the juvenile justice system have diagnosable mental illness & half of them suffer from multiple, chronic and serious mental health problems. 80% of youth aging out of foster care lead dysfunctional lives.
When measured (not often) 1/3 of the traumatized youth in our child protection systems are under the influence of psychotropic medications. California, Florida, Illinois, Texas and New York are grossly over proscribing these drugs for foster children (92%). A judge in MN shared with me the list of over proscribed children in here courtroom that year (it was a very long list including six year olds). There are child suicides because of this – we just don’t talk about it.
Whatever we are measuring, white children have less trouble with it than minority children. For a wealthy and fairly progressive part of the nation, Minnesota has one of the highest racial disparities among children in the nation (education, child suicides, health, poverty and crime rates).
Institutional failure results from policy makers and administrators not understanding what resources, training and strategies are required to do this important work – often to the point of defending terrible policies.
If we valued children we would demand that leaders in these fields understand the core issues and the giant consequences of failing our youngest citizens.
There is no upside to continued failure – we can only succeed if the next generation succeeds.