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From The Cradle To Uncertainty

Rep. Bobby Scott at the House Judiciary Committee’s Hearing on: Jena 6 and the Role of Federal Intervention in Hate Crimes and Race-Related Violence in Public Schools from last week.   More video from that hearing available here.  Kathleen liveblogged most of the hearing in the comments the day that it happened, while I was swamped with SCHIP conference calls, but the available video from the hearing is worth watching for everyone who missed the hearing.

The Children’s Defense Fund had a summit recently on what they are calling the Cradle to Prison Pipeline.  And they have produced a thorough and well-documented report on the problems that at risk children face in America.  This is especially true for kids who are born at the dangerous intersection of despair, poverty and race in far too many communities in this country, as the report sadly and amply demonstrates. 

Everyone in America should read this, but especially our policy makers, because these are problems that we cannot just wish away.  Nor are they problems that we can simply continue to ignore or pretend do not exist.

I was reading a heart rending article the other day by Shaila Dewan in the NYTimes on artwork produced by children displaced by the flood waters and the never-ending string of excuses and red tape and neglect in the aftermath of Katrina.  Shaila is one of the few journalists who have kept on telling the human stories from the Gulf Coast long after most news folks have moved on to statistics and press releases.  And her hard work and compassion shows in this one.

“At first we thought it was a fluke, but we saw it repeatedly in children of all ages,” said Ms. Leopold, who with a team of therapists has made nine visits to Renaissance Village here, the largest trailer park for Katrina evacuees, to work with children. “Then we realized the internal schema of these children had changed. They weren’t drawing the house as a place of safety, they were drawing the roof.”

Countless articles and at least five major studies have focused on the lasting trauma experienced by Hurricane Katrina survivors, warning of anxiety, difficulty in school, even suicidal impulses. But few things illustrate the impact as effectively as the art that has come out of sessions under the large white tent that is the only community gathering spot at Renaissance Village, a gravel-covered former cow pasture with high truancy rates and little to occupy youngsters who do not know when, or if, they will return home….

“The real prescription for these families is to get them back into a normal community,” Dr. Redlener said. “We’re treading water doing these things, when I’d like to take my prescription pad and write, ‘Home.’ ”

So often in my legal career, I wished that I could simply wave some magic wand and make the parents of the kids I was representing in abuse and neglect or juvenile cases act like real, caring parents. That these children would have some semblance of a real home life, and a chance at growing up instead of just barely eaking out a survival for themselves and their siblings in far too many cases.  The kids in Shaila’s piece may have had safe homes at one point or another, but now due to a storm that blew in out of the Gulf, they have no settled home at all.  And the results for these children are just as devastating on so many levels.  

There are so many disparate pieces in the situations we keep running away from resolving:  extreme poverty and despair, SCHIP, racial and economic disparities in our judicial system, and on and on and on.  What it comes down to is that we make public choices — or we make none at all in an “inaction as a policy choice” mentality that Douglas Brinkley has reminded us of so eloquently in his pleas for the Gulf region — for the least of these among us.

But for the wealthier among us?  We have bail-out options and market adjustments.  State-engineered socialism for the wealthy, but poverty for whomever falls below the “not one of us” line of the moment. 

Marion Wright Edelman has said:

When I fight about what is going on in the neighborhood, or when I fight about what is happening with other people’s children, I’m doing that because I want to leave a community and a world that is better than the one I found.

When you start thinking about every single child as one from your own neighborhood, the profound truth of the need to care for them as your own — and the impact that this sort of care could have on our entire planet — begins to sink into your soul. Would that everyone would begin to feel the need for change, because the problems in someone else’s back yard have a way of getting into yours when you least expect it.  From the Cradle to Prison Pipeline report — some of the issues that need solutions, or at the very least some leadership toward a solution to the conflicts involved:

Single Parents
Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Need Support
Unmet Health and Mental Health Needs
Criminalizing Children at Younger Ages
Girls in the Pipeline
Substance Abuse
Juvenile Detention
Child Gun Deaths
Intergenerational Transmission of Violence
Need for Community Supports, Role Models, Mentors and Positive Alternatives to the Streets

The fact is that these issues have been batted about by professionals in law enforcement, social work, counseling, education and children’s advocacy for decades. Isn’t it time that all of us took them on? Because the price we pay for inaction is far too high for all of us.  Isn’t it time we started tackling our most difficult problems proactively instead of waiting for the next dire emergency in our own back yards? Because as sure as I am sitting here typing, there is another emergency or crisis looming down the road.  How about we do some prevention now instead of just getting hit with another wave?

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Christy Hardin Smith

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy is a "recovering" attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review. Christy was a partner in her own firm for several years, where she practiced in a number of areas including criminal defense, child abuse and neglect representation, domestic law, civil litigation, and she was an attorney for a small municipality, before switching hats to become a state prosecutor. Christy has extensive trial experience, and has worked for years both in and out of the court system to improve the lives of at risk children.

Email: reddhedd AT firedoglake DOT com