Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Well okay then.

See, the other day, I read about this woman who, during a fight with her husband, hit him with their four week old baby, causing the baby to suffer a skull fracture and bleeding on the brain.

I thought: Will someone please remove her ovaries and his vas deferens, please?

Oh, but what a difference a press conference can make. See, this is how it was. According to hubby, people are making too much of this. See, it was an accident. She was drunk. Was just grabbing things to hit him with. Too drunk to realize it was the baby she'd picked up used as a weapon. She feels real bad about it now.

Gosh. Well. Thanks, Dad of the Year! It just makes the entire scenario so much more acceptable that this woman, with four young children in the house, was so drunk she couldn't tell the difference between her one month old baby and, say, a lamp.

And not only was she so drunk she was using her baby as a blunt object, she was beating her baby's daddy in front of the other three children.

This is why people grow up without much of a chance. This is the environment they live in. Middle class, relatively well educated people get all horrified when a story like this makes it through their life-is-wonderful bubble (and they should, not saying they shouldn't) but, WAKE THE FUCK UP PEOPLE!


And you wonder why kids are doing drugs, drinking, shooting up schools, dropping out, getting pregnant, going no where.

It's the kids that are raised in these environments. And we, as a society that claims to care about our children (call me a crazy bleeding heart liberal, but I always thought that to mean ALL children, not just our personal children), should not be tolerating this.

It has been proven that at-risk moms and children who receive intensive personalized assistance, in-home visits by social workers or nurses trained in child development, who attend parenting classes that provide developmental and nutritional teaching through the first three years of a child's life do better.

There is less abuse. Moms tend to finish their educational goals. Children are ready for school and come to the classroom with less emotional damage so they are capable of learning. They have received proper nutrition during the first three brain-forming years so are not intellectually stunted.

How about $100,000 a minute for these programs instead of that same amount being spent on this war in Iraq?

Or let's just say it: We only care about OUR children. Not their children. They shouldn't have them if they can't take care of them.

Well, you know, I agree, people shouldn't have children they aren't ready to care for, but you know what? They do. Those kids are here. Are we going to continue to allow abuse and poverty to condemn these children to repeat the cycle over and over again? Or are we going to get off our fat wallets and put our money where our mouths are and fund these projects?

Here is a thought: By age three, brain function and social function is pretty much set, influenced greatly by nutrition and the environment, especially the type of parenting received. Age three. Before Headstart.

Thor sez: Guess what I am? America, turning it's head the other way!


Anonymous said...

We really do a lot of lip service when we say that children are so precious, then do put our money where out mouth is.

I do think there is a misconception that poor women don't love their children as much as much as their more fortunate sisters.

JanetLee said...

Vera - I agree. Poor women love their children just as much. And I've seen "middle class" people do and say horrible things to their children. But the "help" we as a society give to poor mothers and their children isn't helping, it's hurting. We put a band-aid on a gaping, bleeding wound instead of taking the time to stitch it up. Most at-risk (mostly poor, mostly young) mothers respond very favorably to learning what they need to do to be a good parent. Most deparately love their children and want to do right for them, but don't have the knowledge, skills, education or emotional support needed. They are, or feel, trapped in abusive relationships, dead end jobs or worse of all, on the welfare cycle that saps them of any self-esteem they may have and doesn't provide realistic opportunities to get off of welfare. The daily stress of just trying to survive takes its toll, these mothers give up on themselves and their children. This is where we are failing our children, and these mothers.

Daniel said...

Here's my problem with traditional liberal and conservative approaches to dealing with poverty, child welfare, etc.: They invariably wind up being about maintaining poverty rather than changing the conditions that make poverty a generational cycle.

The traditional conservative approach has been to say that we should reward bootstrappers and leave abject personal financial failure as an option because it provides real-world motivation. Anything else, they say, is pouring taxpayer money down a rathole for no discernible social benefit.

The traditional liberal approach creates various programs, with various degrees of incentives and requirements, that channel various monies either to people or various agencies or various non-profits. One of the problems with such an approach is that the size of the problem is so large that you can spend huge amounts of money assisting people and still not spend enough to actually solve the underlying problems and break the cycle. So again, our government anti-poverty programs become ways of maintaining people in poverty and funding jobs at ineffective institutions.

At this point, conservatives tend to throw up their hands and say "stop wasting the money!" And liberals say "well, if you'd just deliver the money better, you'd get better results." And neither response has a meaningful future.

I think we ought to agree on some basic points and build a platform around them:

1. Capitalism involves poverty, at least in a relative sense. If we want to remain a capitalist society, be prepared to accept certain amounts of poverty as a necessary byproduct. Yes, we could "solve" that, but then we wouldn't be practicing capitalism. Personally, I think capitalism is the worst economic system -- except for all the others that I've ever heard proposed. Our goal shouldn't be the elimination of all poverty, but the end of poverty as an inherited trait.

2. Separate poverty from mental illness and/or addiction. A lot of what we define as poverty in America is the result of treatable conditions, and at the very least we can make poverty less dangerous and degrading if we're getting drug addicts into rehab and homeless schizophrenics into treatment.

3. Come up with a sensible national drug policy. The drug trade shapes life in poor neighborhoods and it's a particularly destructive form of vice. Waging a "War on Drugs" hasn't worked. It's time to consider more practical options, and at a minimum we ought to figure out ways to mitigate the problem so that it isn't destroying entire neighborhoods.

4. Break the poverty cycle by removing people via training, education and (drum roll, please) relocation. Back during the welfare reform push I assigned stories that dealt with welfare recipients who were raising children alone, fighting chemical dependency problems,trying to make up for their educational deficiencies and struggling to meet the demands of the new social services system, all while living in the same dangerous, dysfunctional neighborhoods where they grew up. And though you'll read stories about heroic women who overcome these obstacles and succeed, these women are the exception, not the rule.

The rule is that most of these women will fall back into the cycle, and everyone knows it. They don't have the support they need to get out of it. They're surrounded by people who are trying to drag them back down. Most of them are in the situation because their mothers were, and in some cases, so were their grandmothers. They want better for their kids, but they don't see good ways of getting it for them.

I don't think it's in our interest as a society to continue to accept this level of failure. We should be investing in these womens' success, not because we're nice, but because these lives are generating so many problems that we're having to pay for later. What is the cost of a child who becomes a career criminal? An addict? A citizen who opts out of any sense of social responsibility because they've learned the lesson that they're going to fail no matter what? Because they know that deep down, the American middle class fears and despises poor people?

I think it is possible to create programs that enable young, single mothers to fundamentally change their prospects -- and, more importantly, their children's prospects -- but I think it will require creating safe havens outside of the urban ghettos and rural trailer park hells where most have grown up. Places where there are no drug dealers, no sexual predators, no abusive boyfriends hanging barging in.

It's a radical idea, but I think that a model based on voluntary participation in a kibbutz-style community for single mothers and their children could be a way we break the poverty cycle. Mothers would have to choose to abide by strict rules of conduct or face expulsion. In exchange they would get a safe place to live, cooperative child care, first-rate education for their children and adult education and job training for themselves. Mothers would work in the communal industry and basically earn the cost of their family's subsistance, but the rest of us would contribute enough to make sure that the services they receive are enough to change their lives.

I know there are problems with this idea, but I think it's worth exploring. We can continue to pour money into ghettos and get no discernible result, or we could help people invest in themselves via a system that offers a meaningful chance of success.

I wish we were at least talking about such ideas.

Sorry about the long dissertation, but thanks for raising the topic. I've been wanting to talk about this for years.

JanetLee said...

Daniel - thank you for getting closer to what I wanted to say than I did. The "traditional" way - welfare, housing assistance, food stamps - just perpetuates the cycle. What is needed is a more flexible system. What does mother A need? Affordable day care so she can go to her job? Okay. What does mother B need? Drug rehab? Okay. If social workers had options (and their pay was increased beyond virtually minimum wage for a masters degree required job, so more people might be willing to chose that career path) they might be able to start making a dent in the problems, which as you said, grow up to be another generation of problems. The great American ideal of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps only applies if you HAVE bootstraps to begin with.

Chip said...

I know what I'm going to say is going to be unpopular here, but I'll say it anyway.

It seems to me that the welfare system rewards poverty, rather than encouraging people to rise above it. I'm not saying that people should not be given a helping hand, of course. Times get hard, and I've been there too. But where does it end?

A lot of the people that you guys see as "poor" are in the predicament by their own machinations. Choosing tattoos, gold teeth, weave, and rims for the car will not make you rich. Choosing any of those over taking care of your kids should be a crime. And that applies equally to both white and black. I wouldn't dream of bringing a child into this world right now, and I'm not close to poor.

It seems we don't want anybody to actually be responsible for what they do anymore, and that's just sad.

JanetLee said...

Chip - Sit down now - I agree with some of what you say. I think that the welfare system as it is now does not help people to become self-sufficient and in many ways is actually punative to those trying to improve their lot. So after getting knocked down for "doing the right thing" so many times, most just give up and give in. I'd rather see the money put in to social programs that give individual assistance that really does wean a person off assistance.

Chip said...

It's been said that the "road to hell is paved with good intentions."

I think that too many of our community leaders are more interested in the maintenence of power than they are interested in actually improving the community that they live in.

Too many people vote Democrat for the sole reason that the Democrats claim to be the party of the little guy. Except, of course, that the people who run the Democratic party are all fabulously wealthy. The funny thing about being fabulously wealthy is that you look at the rest of the world and feel guilty that you're doing so good and the rest of the world is not. To compensate, you advocate to "equal the playing field" by giving some of your wealth, and some of the wealth of others, to those less fortunate. The problem with that argument is that it implies that wealth is the product of luck (which it is in some situations, of course) and not skill, knowledge, and talent. Most people who become wealthy as the product of their own sweat and effort, not as a consequence of birth or lottery. Heavily taxing these people for this effort is the same thing as punishing it. Giving these taxes to people who'd rather do drugs, live in bad neighborhoods, not work, etc., rewards that behavior. That's the problem. It's a tough nut to crack, and not one of our politicians is willing to approach the problem honestly.

Unfortunately, there are children involved. Children don't ask to be born, and they don't get to choose who gives them life, either. If we choose to stop rewarding do-nothings, we also affect the children of these do-nothings as well. But giving welfare to poor parents also encourages them to have more kids, to increase the benefit. So we're forced to provide benefit to unfit mothers just because we want to protect their children. On the other hand, we're making the problem worse because we're enabling the birth of kids that, because they won't recieve good parenting, perpetuate the problem.

What to do?