Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Economics Determine a Child's Future

Last Tuesday, GB's Mom wrote about how a child's future is often determined by economics, even though it shouldn't. In her post, she wrote:

Economics should never determine a child's future. Society has an obligation to provide what each child needs.

Although I agree with this statement in principle, I think making this a reality is somewhat impossible.  I've been arguing, almost from day one, that if the child welfare system is going to remove children from their birth families, then the system owes them all the services and supports they need to be successful.  This money should come from the system, not the individual foster or adoptive parents who care for these kids, as may of these children have needs that far exceed the financial abilities of most average, middle class families.

Even if a family has the ability to pay, finding the right services can often be difficult, if not impossible.  Not all communities have excellent (or even good) mental health care providers.  Not all communities have the necessary supports for children with physical, emotional or developmental disabilities.

Perhaps some would argue that these families should have thought about that problem before they adopted, but the truth is that often there isn't a reliable way to predict what a child will need until the adoption is finalized, and it's far too late for the family to back out.

The sad reality is, a child's future is limited by the economic means of her parents.  Even when a child hasn't been taken into foster care, her future is often determined by economic circumstance.  Poor students often do not have access to institutions of higher learning, due to their inability to pay, while wealthier students enjoy that privilege.

The economic differences aren't just limited to whether or not a child will go to college.  If a low-income child struggles in school, her family will have to be content with whatever tutoring and special-education services her district can provide.  Wealthier students, on the other hand, can be sent to private tutors, or even special boarding schools for kids with educational difficulties.

Bottom line, the services a child will receive have a lot to do with not only the parents' economic situation, but the community's as well.  If a family lives in a well-to-do area, the chances of the schools having better funding and more resources are much higher.  And too, a lot can depend on the willingness and ability of a family to secure and service debt to pay for treatments that can't be paid for in cash.

Although I think the goal of providing publicly-funded services to every child in need is laudable, I think that making it a reality is impractical.  Although the public might agree with the idea that every child should receive the services he or she needs, when it translates into higher taxes, people balk.  Most middle-class folks object to paying higher taxes to fund programs from which they do not personally benefit.

Without money, programs to provide services to troubled and traumatized children simply can't exist.

Although I'm not one to argue in favor of conspiracy theories, I have wondered why all of a sudden there seems to be such a push to get kids taken into foster care and then ultimately adopted.  Is it because it's better for the children?  I'd argue that, in some cases, it's not.  Although there are cases where a removal is necessary, there are many cases where the removal is questionable.  Could  it be that the huge push to remove kids from arguably neglectful situations is simply a cost-shifting strategy?  If a child is placed in a foster or adoptive home that makes "too much money" to qualify for publicly-funded services, doesn't the state save money by not having to pay for those services?

It's an interesting question, anyway.

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