Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Taking Care of Children and Families: We All Play a Role

As a teacher I've been keenly aware of the Massachusetts' news related to the Department of Children and Families (DCF).  As populations increase, and our day-to-day lives become more complex, taking good care of children and families becomes more challenging.

I have never worked for DCF, and have had little contact with the organization over the years as an educator.  I can't even begin to point my finger at the agency with regard to current and needed systems, but I do know that many children and families are at risk today.  All I have to do is ride down streets in certain areas to notice the challenges families face.  Therefore, while it's probably true that DCF needs to grow and change to better their impact, I also know that we all can play a role in advancing the quality of life for families and children.

First, as a society, we have to look more carefully at alcohol and drug abuse. We know that's at the root of many family issues.  Increased funding for medical studies, treatment centers, and education may help.  I'm not an expert in this area, but I do know it's an area of need.

Next, we have to reckon with child care costs. As a young mother with young children about ten years ago, my husband and I paid about $10,000 a year per child for child care costs.  That was really difficult, but because we had two jobs and wanted good care, we were able to do that, and wanted to do that.  All families should have access to affordable, high quality child care, and it's time to seriously consider public day care and preschool.  It's my guess that the benefits would outweigh the costs.

Also, we may need to strengthen parent education and support services.  Perhaps when a parent has their first child, they are entered into a multi-step program of learning that gives them access to the services that will make a difference, services such as a caring health care center, parent center, needed social services, and more.

Another need is jobs that pay well and offer day care.  Corporate America has to play a role when it comes to hiring, training, paying, and providing good services so that young families can support their families with time, money, and care.

Also, perhaps we start parent education when children are in middle school and high school with a focus on the privilege and responsibility having children brings. I wrote an post about that a few years ago. Beginning these programs with a focus on what students have that made a difference, and what students need for a good life could enlist their interest and connection to these programs.

Massachusetts' schools explicitly outline our roles when it comes to serving families and students well in the new evaluation language. We need to welcome all families, and meet their needs in our school programs.

I believe that our culture is moving towards a greater good, and as we do that there will be room for positive revision and growth.  I am heartbroken about the sad stories and loss portrayed in the news.  I know how complex and challenging the situations are that DCF deals with.  I also know, though, that we have to move forward as educators, social workers, employers, government officials, neighbors, and community members to do what we can to serve families and children well. That is an essential element when it comes to building dynamic, people-centered, positive communities--the kinds of communities everyone wants to be a part of.