As a volunteer child protection worker, I pay attention to the negative attitude a growing number of our adult population are promoting toward issues impacting children.

When I listen to the political discussions that affect at risk children with neighbors, family, and friends, I often hear them blame the poor habits or behaviors of one of their own acquaintances as an example of why trying to help is wasteful. It’s as if people feel an accomplishment in blaming a child’s parents instead of offering constructive suggestion that might improve a child’s life.

A close relative explained to me how a nine year old child was fully capable of correcting and dealing with the drunken and dysfunctional behavior of an abusive parent (and therefore should not need community help). A neighbor speaks of someone with mental health issues as if that person should just “make better decisions”.

It is hard to argue with people that make ungrounded (completely false) statements and don’t care about the children they speak of or otherwise clearly misunderstand the issues.

My close relative had her own fetal alcohol baby and should have been the first to know that community involvement in prenatal care would have a positive impact on the 600,000 fetal alcohol babies born in the U.S. each year. America has the highest preteen pregnancy rate in the industrialized world & one in four U.S. teens has a sexually transmitted disease, the highest in the industrialized world – we’re number one.

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There is a definite American trend towards assuming that disturbed and very young children should be able to make adult decisions & make their own way without help (especially without help from their community).

All too common are the self righteous anecdotes about “I left home at fifteen and turned out pretty well” or some other attempt to minimize or ignore the serious issues of a three year old child living in violence, drug abuse, or deprivation.

The growing number of politicians that don’t think children deserve a safety net points to an uncharitable movement that is unsupportable economically and socially. It costs our communities money and safety to let children develop into preteen moms and adolescent felons. We now have 5% of the world’s population and 25% of the world’s prison population & more crime per capita than any other nation in the world. There were 13 million jail & prison releases in the U.S. last year.

The cost of crime, safety, and prisons is in the trillions of dollars each year in America. It will surely pay to approach these children as future citizens and taxpayers and not continue the chaos of neglect that is making our communities poverty stricken and unlivable.

This destructive attitude against children has no religious roots and is mostly being promoted by political seekers that understand the reptilian appeal of blaming and hating.

These politicians well understand how blaming and hating replaces the need to think through complex issues. It also allows them to misrepresent and ignore the real problems and denigrate the people trying to help while minimizing or ignoring the children that need the help.

They lead their constituents to believe that money is saved by ignoring the children and programs that could help them. Nothing could be further from the truth. Like the Minnesota 35W bridge that fell in the river because it was not maintained; it cost 500 times more to deal with than if it had been taken care of. At risk children become at risk adults and cost our communities a vast multiple of the difference between productive citizens and dysfunctional adults.

When one works with (and comes to know) the children of violent, mentally ill, abusive parents (who were generally abused children themselves), it is hard to imagine that we would not want this frightened three, five, or nine year old child to have a chance to climb out of the painful dysfunctional life they have been thrown into.

There is an abundance of proof that establishes the economic and social argument for saving children. Three million children are reported to child protection agencies in this nation each year (when the calls are taken – MN is screening out 2/3s of the calls this year). By not responding to these children we guarantee more crime, preteen moms, dropouts, and a continued cycle of failing schools and dangerous communities. Once the cycle is broken, these children go on to have normal healthy lives and families. Until this cycle is broken, our communities will continue to suffer the consequences of failing schools, poverty, violence and an out of control criminal justice system.

We have reached a spectacular momentum arresting and incarcerating poor people (a vast majority are minorities) into a hopeless cycle of poverty, drugs, and violence.

The vast majority of America’s crime and incarceration is fed by this cycle of children born to dysfunctional parents and harsh and unforgiving circumstances. This insures more at risk children unable to learn in school or cope adequately to live among us. They soon add themselves to the high crime rates, high STD rates, and early pregnancy rates that further fuel this cycle.

Development of skills sufficient to learn, and grow into a healthy child and citizen is not a mystery. Without these skills, children simply can’t cope within their community and they become a problem (either to social services or the criminal justice system), a burden instead of a productive citizen.

My twelve years as a guardian ad-Litem allowed me to watch fifty children (most I removed from their birth homes) that were cast into an underfunded and under-resourced child protection system with inadequate & disparate resources. This has given me a front row seat to see clearly how much help children need and the consequences they (and we) suffer when help does not arrive.

It is hard to comprehend a suicide bed at Fairview hospital for a four year old. I have experienced this. The seven year old foster child that hung himself in Florida left a note. The two year old foster child that disappeared in Nevada did not leave a note.

The average person can’t comprehend the self loathing sexually abused children feel and they can’t explain it to us. Mental health issues are best left to mental health experts (that should be available to abused and neglected children). The sex abuse and violence I observed committed against very young children in child protection is common and seriously under-reported and under-treated.

The good news is we have created workable models to heal terribly abused children. The bad news is our communities are shutting down services that would heal terribly abused children. This will cost us for generations to come.

We will only recover our place in the world as a productive first place nation, if we recapture our sense of humanity and concentrate on making children healthy enough to become productive citizens.

It is economically sound policy and caring about children is the right thing to do.

No adult should deny public policy that helps the very young future citizens of our nation get the help they need to become normal functioning children and students. We are a wealthy nation that can well afford the programs and education necessary for at risk children to become functioning citizens within our communities.

Send this to your local paper, your friends, & local politicians. Consider taking the time to personalize it with your own story or recent newspaper article about abused children or troubled schools.

Stand for children.

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  1. Very good points. The way to fix our social issues is not harsher punishment of crmes, not a philisophy of “work harder” or “pull yourself up by your boot straps” mentality but really investing in helping to strengthen our families and resolve many issues which cause so much disfunctionality – alcoholism, drug abuse, sexual promiscuity, etc.

    Unfortunately what I believe people are saying is that social services – helping abused and under priviledged Children, the handicapped and the elderly are not as important as other things on the agenda in our government. So, the cuts in spending for social services continues yet other items on the government agenda continue. Not to justify our congressman, alderman, senators for their decisons but they listen to the vocal members of our society and the voices which are least heard are those defending increases or even status quo in spending on social services. Those with the loudest voice are usually related to the effect on ones pocket book.

    We all need to start helping the less and under priviledge (our Children) and stop worrying about our own pocket book.

  2. Have we made any progress from the 18th century when comes to our children? Infancy during this time of period stopped at age seven… a gray zone for children was between ages 7 to 14-years. Children became miniature adults after age 14….treated like adults and received sentences for crimes like adults. Children worked as soon as they could talk, walk, and understand like adults; this most likely occurred during the gray zone…no mandate for children to attend school; therefore, they worked for an income.

    During the 19th century, the courts had to create laws that distinguished childhood and adulthood. In a sense, our nation faces the same problems as it did centuries ago. Children are unable to experience a healthy childhood because of unbroken cycles in our society….lack of or no support in the home or from the community in which they live.

    I had the experience of learning and obtaining my public health nursing experience in two small rural counties in California with the highest teenage pregnancy rate that out ranked other counties and states. We can expect stress and pressure to increase when parents and children feel a strong sense of powerlessness and hopeless…they turn to using drugs, alcohol, and committing crimes….making society unsafe and taxing our system even more. Their reaction to daily situations is not an excuse but rather a way of coping.

    Our nation must consider adopting models for states and communities to use as guidelines in developing policies and procedures to address these complex issues. We need more child psychologists, child therapists, social workers, community volunteers, and a reconstructive foster care system.

    Preferably, it would be good to work with families as a unit rather than working with one family member ….what affects one in a household affects all. To modify these behaviors that create these ill and complex social issues will take a solid plan and commitment for many years to come. Love demonstrated by caring can and does solve a multitude of problems.

  3. Politicians everywhere are the same. The only difference seems to be that in some developed countries government expenditure is subjected to intense public scrutiny, whereas in our part of the world they have a field day. Investment in citizen buiding (primary health & education) figures at the bottom of priorities.
    To bring this point to public debate we have initiated an humble attempt in the last 2 years to analyse the state (Orissa state, INDIA) education budget and tracking the expenditure at the district level through a team of trained civil society members.
    As expected the facts revealed are shocking and expose the false claims of leaders.

  4. Yes, I have observed an increased impatience and lack of empathy for those who are most vulnerable. A change of heart and attitude seems to be the basis upon which most historic changes are made, either on an individual basis or corporately.

    Mother Teresa, who is known to have compassion for the poorest and most helpless, said, “Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat.” She also stated the following two quotes, “Let us touch the dying, the poor, the lonely and the unwanted according to the graces we have received and let us not be ashamed or slow to do the humble work” and “Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” Wise words from one who saw overwhelming needs wherever she went and made the most of opportunities to be an agent of change.

  5. I have presented my educational motivational talks for several children at risk conferences.
    I am happy to say that many intermediate school districts throughout Michigan have had mini conferences that offer students valuable information that can assist them in planning their future.

    One of the conferences I have spoken for several times is up in Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan.
    At this conference the students plan it, produce it and handle all the details. It is a conference that started with just a handful of vendor and has grown to over 40 vendors from technical schools and many other organizations throughout the country.

    Last March when I arrived to speak, a student was assigned to me to help me with what ever I needed. He made sure my computer tech student was available to help with my Power Point, the students in the catering area had my lunch and dinner and that I had everything I needed. He kept saying, “I’m here to get you anything you need.”

    I have spoken for many events throughout the world but this conference that is planned and produced by so called students at risk is one of the best well run youth conferences I have spoken at and attended.

    When you give students a mission, allow them to create a vision, they will set and obtain goals some may never even dream of.

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