As reports and strategies for 2010 on issues that concern our communities continue to come forth, I want to try and help us connect the dots. Most of the time we tend to focus on our particular area of interest and passion when we should be stepping back to look at the landscape around us.
This week a conference was held to release numbers concerning the deaths of children as a result of abuse or neglect in the state of Colorado over the past seven years. The article was titled "Colorado's Number of Shame" 179 children killed from abuse and neglect over the past seven years according to an editorial by Bill Johnson who attended this conference. You can also find statistics for your state by accessing the report from Every Child Matters.
The Denver Post article reports that in fiscal 2008-9 there were 76,000 reports of child abuse and neglect. The state investigated 1 in 3 of these reported cases and of those investigated only 22% received child services. The report goes on to give statistics concerning the future outcome for those children that suffer in a place of neglect and abuse. The article lists high school drop out rates, teen pregnancy rates and the instance of homelessness. However, the impact and devastation is further reaching and continues to impact and burden our state. More on this in a minute.
The other facts that are very evident to many who deal with children, is that the risk for failure in a child can be spotted at an early age. There are education professionals that will tell you they can discern as early as the first grade whether or not a child will complete high school. The will tell you that they can spot the evidence of neglect in a home. They can tell you which children come from a home where there is a lack of parental supervision or interaction.
We also know, from extensive case study and reports, that children who come from a home where there is drug and alcohol abuse are at risk of becoming addicted themselves at an early age. We know the things experienced in the home become the social patterns of these young children for the future.
The next step on this path of failure for these young children is often through prison doors. Those who come from addicted or neglectful homes often turn to drugs and alcohol. This leads to addiction and securing ways to feed their addiction. In the state of Colorado, 66% of our prison population is there because of drug related crimes. If you are dealt with in a violent manner in your home, you learn to deal with stressful situations with violence. If you grow up in a home where rules are broken, where the things that are not supposed to happen to you DO happen, you do not learn right from wrong. Let me emphasize that statement because it is very important for us to hear and understand. There has been much discussion and controversy over the ability of a young person to make adult decisions and be held accountable as an adult for their actions. First and foremost kids are not adults. They do not have the mental capacity to live past, or see past, the events that are right in front of them. This is true of a "normal" adolescent that has been raised in a positive environment. Now add to that immaturity, the impact of being raised in an environment where violation of right and wrong is an every day occurrence. They are not taught nor have the ever experienced the difference between right and wrong. They are told that abuse is wrong (from outside sources) but it happens in their home. They are taught (in school) that drugs are bad and can lead to a life of destruction but it is an everyday occurrence in their home. They are told and disciplined for the use of violence to solve problems but that is how problems are solved at home.
The lack of focus on juvenile reform issues, addiction treatment and child protection has resulted in a bulging prison system. We take those who have been neglected, abused and unprepared for successful futures and confirm their lack of worth by condemning them to prison. Our focus has been on "tough on crime" policies. We may be better served by focusing on the health and welfare of the members of our community.
The problem we face now is how to stop this destructive cycle and make positive changes. The Department of Human Services will tell you that the reason they cannot investigate and care for all of these children, is because of a lack of funds. The educators will tell you the reason they cannot have more influence in a child's future, is because of a lack of funds. The juvenile delinquency professionals will tell you that the reason they cannot serve all the children in need, is because of a lack of funds. Addiction treatment centers will tell you that the reason they cannot treat those with an addiction problem, is because of a lack of funds. The prison system will tell you that the reason they cannot focus on reform and re-entry is because of a lack of funds. Our state is broke. Most states are broke and most states could not afford to increase the funding to these organizations to meet the needs of their population.
We need renewed social responsibility. Not in the form of government programs but in community based centers that create new revenue streams. I will give you an example. I know of a man who opened a florist shop. He, himself, only took a salary from the business. He employed people who had served time in prison and helped with re-entry for these individuals. He took the profit from his business to fund an organization that helps offenders transition from prison to their communities. I know of people who have created businesses that created jobs for homeless people, single mothers and former offenders and the profit from these businesses purchased affordable housing that was also available to those in need.
If we are going to find solutions to the problems we are faced with and the budget crisis in our states, we are going to have to be creative and innovative. We have the skills, the knowledge and the resources. Do we have the tenacity, the strength and the heart?Powered by Sidelines