Saturday, April 13, 2013

Talking about Talking to the Babies of the Poor.

This Article 

...sent me off on a Facebook post that grew long and rambling enough it took refuge over here on this old warhorse of a blog.

About 50 different fascinating/frustrating conversation starting points in this article.   I was interested to see them address one interesting wrinkle I wondered about, having spent a lot of time working on the Upper East Side: rich babies with Nepalese nannies (it's a thing) who have little English.
More seriously, it amazes me we'd rather pay to put an extra cop and a gun and a radio and a squad car in a neighborhood than a nurse with a clipboard and some brochures, given how much long term difference each one can make.

I've seen a lot of coverage on the school closings issue here in Chicago.  The city had a bunch of meetings where parents could speak to the Superintendent, the Police Chief and other city functionaries.  The amount and variety of the questions and demands that went to the Police Chief confused me, until I realized that to people in these neighborhoods, the police are the only-yet a constant-point of interaction with the government.  How can this be a workable solution, on any level? It is expensive to flood a neighborhood with extra cops, socially as well as financially, and is of questionable long term effectiveness.  The big strides in New York city safety were not only the result of more police but of smarter police strategy, a unique population density situation and perhaps a low number of gang members, which is something people are trying to figure out).

I have a liberal bias and believe in government as an expression our collective will as a citizenry. If that will would have us change the situation of places like Chicago's South Side, for moral or straight up financial reasons, don't we owe it to ourselves to do it in a way that makes sense from the perspective of social science? The benefits of programs for the children of poverty are well documented, yet watching the news nearly every night, I see many standing at podiums and on siren lit street corners demanding more cops and nobody pounding their fist saying we need to double or triple the amount of social service workers on those same streets. Why do we not have social service patrol cars, (yellow-and-whites?), rolling around town with a nurse and a social service worker in each one, making connections with people and looking for places where the government can intervene in a positive way.  We force default this job to police officers once things have gone too far,and it shouldn't be their job.

 It amazes me how often I realize I am making a terrible parenting mistake, and I am literate, have access to the internet 24/7, wise and supportive friends and family, a few baby care classes under my belt, an adult life's worth of life experience and a stack of child-rearing books in our home. Tons of kids are growing up in homes where their parent or parents have none of that help when making their parenting decisions, and that is going to hurt those kids. Period.  Now a parent myself, it is clear to me parenting worthy of the name is not the sort of magic, instinctual force of wonder a lot of our popular culture makes it out to be.  When Leona was born, The Parenting did not arrive like this:

Rather, it seems to be a series of decisions and actions which will lead to either better or worse outcomes. With a base of knowledge and experience, one can improve the quality of those decisions and actions and therefore, the outcomes. A pretty good definition of a skill, or perhaps a trade, in either case something that can be improved with coaching and practice no matter what your level of underlying talent. We have devised a system in this country to provide training to every person who drives a car, whether that comes from a class or a more experienced driver. We do this because we have to share the road with these drivers. I'm not sure a good portion of the country sees themselves as having to live with these children.

Yet these children are our big chance. Again, I'm a believer in using government to change things, but I'm not sure I've ever read anything that convinces me the government has come up with any measurably positive way to get adults in poverty out of poverty. I can't honestly say that I believe the majority of people over 30 on government assistance right now will ever be fully self sustaining. There are a lot of reasons for that, a big one being so much of the money that used to circulate among the middle and lower classes has been sucked out of that part of society and locked up in the very top tier where it sits, doing nothing. Still, the fact remains, we can probably do only so much for older generations. Maybe even those in school already.

However, all the signs point to the premise that we can do a whole hell of a lot for those kids 3 and under. And next year there will be more, and we can help them too, and 15, 18 years from now the science says we should be able to expect much higher grades, much lower drop out rates, much lower arrest rates, much lower teen pregnancy rates and much better parenting by those teens who do get pregnant.
All of which saves us money, improves entire lives and perhaps helps to throw some hiccups into the cycle of poverty.