Reading the stories about Michaela in the ol’ H-L have been especially disconcerting. You see, I knew Michaela. At least briefly. She lived in Lexington when my family moved about four houses down from her. Even though she exhibited some significant behavioral challenges, my own daughter of the same age tried to befriend her.
Michaela was living with her mother and maternal grandparents then. She always appeared well-nourished and cleanly dressed. Her mom would not allow Michaela to come to our house to play until she met my wife and I face to face. This impressed me as being responsible at the time.
Things must have gone down hill when the mom moved out and the grandparents sold the house (I am not sure which event triggered the other). Michaela moved to a different school district and we did not see her again until her picture was in the H-L. We did not recognize her at first, but once we realized she was the same girl that needed a friend so badly, we all felt a deeper sense of shock and sadness.
Everyone is quick to point fingers in such circumstances. Usually the finger pointing is at the Cabinet. The Cabinet in turn points the finger at a single worker or supervisor who often is demoted or loses their job. This serves the wonderful political need for a scapegoat, but it does not solve the problems. The real truth is that we all share the responsibility.
It may be true that child deaths have increased recently. I would have to really look at the statistics, but I suspect that there are cycles of increase and decline that could be tied to a number of variables, such as poverty levels. If you recall, I wrote a couple of posts recently about the rise of the ultra poor that you can see here and here.. I am not claiming to be a statistician, but I discern a connection between the increase in child fatalities and these economic phenomena.
I hear from inside the Cabinet that things are worse than ever in terms of morale and the ability for workers to do their jobs. This also plays a role and may also be tied to economics on some level. I know that the Cabinet stays underfunded and understaffed. The recently passed Boni Bill provides a modicum of increased funding for more staff but it remains to be seen how far that will stretch. It is only a band-aid trying to dress a gaping wound.
We are all responsible because we decide, by voting and contacting our elected officials (or not), how much of a priority child protection is to us. How much are we willing to pay out of our pockets to prevent how many deaths. Politicians will swear they are going to see the end of child fatailities with increased oversight or a new committee or two. The reality is, we will alway have some child deaths. But we can minimize them, but not with political posturing.
We will not accomplish this goal by a knee-jerk increase in removing children from their homes. Unnecessary removals cause tremendous harm to children as well. Also, on rare occasions a child is killed or seriously injured in a foster home. No, we need proper funding for the Cabinet so that there are enough quality, highly trained workers in the field to thoroughly investigate and assist families in crisis. We need comprehensive and expanded economic support programs for impoverished families rather than continually tightening the purse strings. And, we need increased funding for treatment programs addressing violence and chemical dependency. If we invest our dollars in this three prong approach, there will be fewer child fatalities. And with that, I announce my candidacy for gub’ner of Cantuckee.
My daughter – she’s the one we should look to in this. She is the one who befriended Michaela when no one else would. Her kindness and generosity are the examples we need to follow.