By Judi Palay
To our legislators, our community, our state officials and you:
You wouldn’t, we hope, intentionally condemn a small child to a life of abuse, of poverty, of suffering. Yet, that is happening routinely.
We identify families who are in trouble because they do not have the skills to cope in today’s world. There may very well be two parents working full-time but whose earnings do not even bring them to the minimum level of poverty as defined by our government. They are struggling.
Savings? They are just hoping to pay their bills.
Housing? How can they get decent housing when they cannot put down the first and last month’s rent plus security deposit? And so they live in sub-standard housing with cockroaches and other such breaches of the law because these places do not get regular inspections. Generally the locations are not in ideal neighborhoods.
Many of the children in these families begin school way behind. Parenting is a skill and these parents need guidance in learning these skills. Reading to the children, learning numbers and recognizing letters and their sounds, using appropriate manners, basic good health-washing hands, brushing teeth, using tissues — these need to be taught.
These children need our help early on. They need to get an education to break this cycle of poverty. Ideally, we need to mentor these families. As soon as these families are identified, we need to help the children.
We have statistics that show that when we ignore these problems, these children do not catch up. The majority will become school dropouts. They will wind up on the streets or in our juvenile justice system
Many of these children and families are identified through the Department of Children and Families hotline. With the changes that DCF is adopting, called “transformation,” there will be even less services for those children deemed “safe” in the home.
While all of us concur that physical safety is important, so are life skills and an education.
It doesn’t need to be an either-or situation! There are volunteers who have and could continue to work with these families, and especially the children. There are mentors to teach good basic nutrition, good health habits, budgeting, family goal-setting and the like. There are volunteer tutors to work with children who need extra help. Instead, DCF has chosen to no longer insure the very volunteers who are working to help their children and families!
Several years ago, with the help of Friends of Foster Children, I developed a program called MCAP, for Mentoring Parents and Children in their homes. Teams of two volunteers at a time went into homes selected by the Children’s Protective Investigators. For up to 12 weeks, the team worked with the family to develop family goals. At the same time, they taught the family skills such as budgeting, personal health habits, working together to clean up their homes, appropriate discipline for different ages, etc.
What we discovered was that many of these homes had repeat visits. There were real issues that had simply had bandages put on them because the children were deemed to be “safe.” But the children were failing in school; the environment in which they lived was neither healthy nor able to support the skills to turn this family around. There seemed to be no extra funds available to provide help where professional help was indicated.
Yes, the safety of the children is of paramount importance, but second to that is providing the help to change these families so we are not repeating generations of this. Our legislature must appropriate the necessary funding to help provide the professional and volunteer support. It costs us one-seventh of the amount to turn a two-year-old around as opposed to a 16-year-old.
Cooperation between well-trained volunteers and professionals can help ease the financial burden somewhat. When we work towards the goal of making our community a place of opportunity for all who live here, we all benefit. Isn’t that what is truly important?
Please write your legislators and encourage your friends to join you to get our legislators to put into law the necessity for insurance for volunteers to be able to continue to help these families. Get our community leaders involved. It does take a community to raise a child! Let our governor know that this is a must — that his next appointment as secretary of DCF needs to recognize the importance of the volunteers for these families.
You have the power to change lives by spending 10 minutes writing to your legislators and emailing this to a few friends so that they, too, can take action. Please, won’t you help?