Top Ten Issues in our Society

    1.  Child welfare systems: Chronic underfunding, overwhelming caseloads and a crying need for services  interfere with our ability to really help those who desperately need intervention and support.  Our system damages the very families it tries to help.
    2.  Addiction recovery: Much of the excessive imprisonment in our country is related to addictions to alcohol and other drugs. Our punitive system doesn’t fund the way out of this cycle.  Do we want it to continue? Or do we deeply believe that some people who are addicted to substances don’t really deserve to be helped?
    3. Homelessness–affordable housing:  When we have many citizens living on the streets, it is an indication of a lack of care in our world.  There are as many reasons for homelessness as there are people who are suffering.  Sometimes the people who are without a roof over their head are working. However, wages can be very low, and inexpensive housing is rare.
    4. Job readiness training:  Many times people do not learn basic job skills in their formal education. Without a caring person to teach the basics, young people falter and have difficulty holding a job.  A cycle of unemployment, disenchantment, and negative behavior will ensue.  We have to find a way for people caught in that negative spiral to find a way out.
    5. Healthcare access: Our current system has made some impact. However, a large segment of people cannot afford to pay the premiums for the insurances that are available. They have no recourse for consistent health care.
    6. Mental health recovery: There are many things that can help people who experience life in a way that does not serve them.  Depression, bipolar disorder, addictions, and schizophrenia all are treatable conditions. Access to help is lacking.  We need to let go of the stigma that surrounds mental health issues and create ways to surround people with the healing power of love.
    7. Immigration issues: How can we address the practical negative impact of people crossing borders and working without documentation?  The impact is not just on our economy, it is that these people often work with none of the protection of legal safety practices.  They are vulnerable to unscrupulous employers who take advantage of the fear associated with their legal status.  This issue is negative all the way around.  The narrative that undocumented aliens must be sent back to the home country is too simplistic.
    8. Educational deficits:  There are schools that are failing to teach people to read and compute basic math.  What can we do to support the school and the students to make absolutely certain that each child becomes literate to the basic skills of survival in the 21st century?
    9. Drug dealing-using culture:  Criminalization of drugs has created a culture of predatory dealers, people wrapped up in addiction and a violent response to life.  How can we enter in and address the factors that contribute to this ongoing issues.
    10. Massive incarceration of people.  Our system of mandatory sentencing, get tough on crime, and zero tolerance coupled with the “War on Drugs” have increased the number of prisoners in our country.  The result is massive expenditure on imprisonment, cutting funding on recovery issues, cutting other programs.  Not to mention that we have put a large portion of a generation of parents behind bars. The price paid by the children and families and communities is tremendous.

It’s disheartening to list all of these huge, interconnected problems. Ugh. Closing my eyes and pretending that these issues have nothing to do with me is so tempting. It would be easy to think that my most pressing concern is the interest rate on my Visa. What I experience day to day in working with the population whom I serve is that these issues are present and have a tremendous impact on the lives of real people in our communities. And I know that what touches your life touches my life. We are all connected.

These issues can be impacted by policy decisions in the government offices. However, the government cannot mandate the heart to love people who experience these challenges. The government cannot meet the soulful needs for respect and hope and the belief that things can change. The greatest need we have in our communities is for people who are not experiencing these issues to stop looking down on people who need help.

What do you think? Are these the biggest domestic problems we face? What direction do you think we need to take?

Hope Street Ministry

Marcelle says that when she was appointed to Reveille she prayed, “Lord, send the people that nobody else wants here to Reveille.” Her congregation is largely poor, often struggling, and wide open to sharing the love of Christ with each other. In addition, they actively seek to love their neighbor. On Sundays they go out to feed people who live with no roof and share a community meal. It may be something simple, but it is always flavored with love and grace.  The greatest thing that is offered is hope.  Hope that people care; hope that God’s love is real; hope that they are worthy. It’s a powerful ministry.

Feeding the hungry and listening to their needs planted seeds for the ministries which have blossomed from their roots in simple service.

The Roots of Child Welfare Issues

THE ISSUES

In order to know who to talk to and what to look for, I have begun reading more about the issues. The Child Welfare system, Foster Care, and other state agencies and efforts are in response to an even more awful reality. The roots of the problems with families are buried deeply in poverty and violence. Political oppression, lack of opportunity, sex trade, the drug culture and communities blanketed with hopelessness all play a part in this weight pulling down our communities.

HOPE
Yet, there is hope!
“A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity” is written by Nicholos D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.

This book details non-profit efforts in agencies throughout the world. But, it is not just about a feel good, let’s see what is possible. The authors also detail efforts to measure the impact that the projects have on the future of the people served. One project is led by an MIT professor, Dr. Esther Duflo. She experiments on different initiatives and helps us to know what actually helps (P. 35-41). The danger in feel good projects is that they can cost a lot of money and have limited effect on actually helping people.

Overall the book is optimistic that our drive to make a difference in the lives of others is a powerful force for good in our world. The problems of our society are challenging. Yet, the human desire to make a difference for others is a spark of hope in this world.

ACES Adverse Childhood Experiences Survey and Child Welfare

I went to the LouisianaChildren.org Child Well Being conference in May.  It was jam packed full of information. It was interesting to see how the different presenters each re-enforced the other.  Two of them even used the same quote attributed to Albert Einstein, “The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them.”

What I found frustrating is that I went to the conference hoping to find others who are passionate about improving the child welfare system. And I did. Numerous people are concerned about the well-being of all children.  We truly are a compassionate people here in this state.  But, there is no coordinated effort to intervene in an effective manner.  What we have are silos and gaps.  We have a host of caring and ineffective delivery of inadequate services.  Sometimes there is some success, but for the most part what the young people we desperately try to help experiences is far from adequate.

There has been significant research for many years about Adverse Childhood Experiences.  The more issues one faces as a child, the greater health risks one will face as an adult.   We already know this, it is well documented.   (You can calculate your score here: www.theannainstitute.org/Finding Your ACE Score.pdf).  The items on the survey include different types of abuse and neglect.  Not included are things that no one can foresee or prevent, like death or disaster.  Each event named has a profound effect on a person’s life. Stacking up these types of events in a childhood leads to a burden too heavy to carry.  The long term emotional and physical health of a person is at risk.

Let’s pretend that we don’t care about other people. Their well being is none of our business.  They are not our family members, that’s not my grandchild, why should I care?  (I know that’s not you or me, we wouldn’t be here on this blog together if that were the case).  The health risks from these events in childhood are heart disease, diabetes, mental health problems and addiction.  These problems are expensive to treat.  Early intervention is far less expensive.  Positive outcomes bring more able bodied people to the work force, thus the economic benefit is beyond simply the savings of early treatment.  To me it is painfully obvious that we who have been blessed to have lower ACES scores have an interest in helping those who are at risk of high scores to overcome them.

We do try. We have a social service system in place. However, in the misguided mindset of fiscal responsibility, services are frequently underfunded.  There is a huge gap between our expectations of social service providers and our willingness to equip them with the people, training, and supplies that they need in order to be effective.  We are not paying adequate attention.

 

 

Hating Child Protection Agencies

OH the temptation is to hate Child Protection Agencies.  In some places CPS is the object of loathing, here in Louisiana they are called DCFS, Department of Children and Family Services.   We read a report about a child killed while in foster care and then rant and rave about incompetency and uncaring. Or, we read about a child who is abused by their family who had been investigated by CPS previously, and the same charges apply again.  It seems that CPS simply can’t get it right.

I hate that children die. Whether they are in foster care or in the care of their parents, it is a tragedy when a child dies. Especially if the child dies from abuse or neglect at the hands of those who are charged with caring for them.  Whether the people are the child’s natural parents or foster parents is a moot point.  It is simply awful.

Let’s back up a little and look at the options we face.

We could do nothing when a child is being abused. After, the child surely has parents, let the parents figure it out.  That idea is so abhorrent it is difficult for me to express.  Children deserve protection, nurture, and love. When they are being abused, it goes against what I believe is supposed to happen in families.

We could keep the child in the home and offer services there.  Which, actually does occur quite a bit.  There have been many successes in this system. Most of the time, people who are parents really want to be good parents.  Sometimes there is a skill deficit and new skills is all that’s necessary.  The problems that the agencies face are common ones.

1.  There aren’t enough resources for the parents readily available.  It’s all well and good for the worker to say that a parent needs support, if the community doesn’t have parental support they can’t get it.

2.  The caseloads are overwhelming.  The wisdom of Solomon is in short supply when we get overwhelmed with competing priorities.

3. The work sucks.  Being the one to rescue a child from their own parents sucks.  Plus, the paperwork, the pressure, the bureaucracy, and the responsibility sucks.  It takes a lion’s heart to be able to do the work and maintain one’s own sanity. There are far more wonderful CPS workers than poor ones.

What has evolved over the years is a delicate balance.  The state has a vested interest in keeping children in their own homes.  However, when a child must be removed for their safety, the state has a responsibility to assure that their placement is better than that home.

We can point out problems all day long.  What we need to do is help CPS find solutions.  We are a society that cares about its children. We need to put our thinking caps on and figure this out.