Brookfield Basics

A column about history, culture, policy, and things in between.

Childhood Poverty in Milwaukee - Part Two

I had not planned to make this a two-part series, but an insighftul commentator on my first post asked, "so what should we do about childhood poverty", and "do those kids deserve their fate"?  These are fair questions, and if I am to raise this issue, then I need to accept the responsibility of answering them. 

I'll answer the second question first.  No, these children most certainly do NOT deserve their fate.  I assume that all who read BrookfieldNow would answer the same to this question, and that little time is needed for its debate.  So we move on to the larger and tougher matter - what are we to DO about it.  

We have a mountain of evidence which identifies the disintegration of the family, and kids being raised in parentless households as primary factors in the cause of childhood poverty.  This same evidence clearly demonstrates that kids who come from solid family units, REGARDLESS of income levels, do much better in life as measured by almost any conceivable barometer we might apply.  This evidence does not come soley from the "far right".  Rather, study after study published from the ranks of modern sociology and psychology clearly point to the horrific damage caused by the proliferation of these pathologies. 

So I would argue that the first need is to acknowledge the primary causal factor of childhood poverty, for how are we to solve the problem without accurately defining its cause?  I believe this is where so many urban leaders have missed the mark, as they continue to talk about every conceivable cause BUT these.  It is certainly legitimate to talk about other matters, but not at the expense of ignoring the primary one.  So my first answer to the "what should we do about it" question is to call for a more honest and comprehensive discussion of this compelling reality.  We need leaders from EVERY WALK OF LIFE -civil government, social services, education, and our churches to use their "bully pulpit" to outline, identify, and talk about the devastating impact of these behaviors.  We should bend the energies of these institutions to talk about, teach, and help CHANGE these pathologies.  We use our schools as venues for all kinds of public safety and information programs, why not this?  It is time for the NEA to take up this question alongside of its never ending quest for so many other social and political agendas. 

I suggest that Step Two is to weave these concerns into the fabric of our public policy.  This ranges from the tax code, which penalizes marriage and families, to inadequate enforcement of "dead-beat Dad" laws.  It would include the admission of the failure of large-scale social service agencies, which have taught us as much about scandal and corruption than they have about alleviating poverty.   Let's recognize that organizations like the Milwaukee Rescue Mission have done more to help our city's disadvantaged than have high-profile and publicly funded agencies.  And let's have the attendant courage to demand that the resources of public funding reflect this reality. 

But lastly, there is the question of "What should I do about it".  What should I, living here in affluent Brokfield and Elm Grove, do about it? 

My answer to that question is to go and find a tree.

When faced with problems of such enormity we all have the natural and understandable tendency to "see see the forest and not the trees".  When faced with a CITY full of parentless children we are stunned into mute inaction, and are reduced to the feeling of "what can I do". But when we focus on the "tree" of an individual or specific family, then we can mobilize our time, our energies, and our resources to ACT.  This action can take a myriad of forms and it is certainly not my place to define what might be appropriate for you, but there are many organizations existing just minutes form our door which are "out there" doing good with respect to this issue.  We can coach youth sports, we can counsel at risk youths, we can financially assist agencies that are engaged in all of these things, and we can come alongside an individual or family - that proberbial "tree in the forest".  We can be assured and encouraged by the conviction that "a little is a lot" in terms of sharing our time and our resources. 

The ancients wrote into their laws that it was the responsibility of every member of society to care for widows, orphans and the poor.  They had no large scale social agencies that were charged with this task, for they knew that to assign this job to "society" was to assign it to no one.

I would argue that their method was not only more compassionate - it was more effective.


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