It's time to clean up mess we've made of 'throw-away' kids' lives

January 17, 1995|By ELISE T. CHISOLM

From throw-away plastic goods to throw-away cameras, we have become a society of mindless waste and throw-away things.

Now we have "throw-away children."

In the past year, we read about a South Carolina mother who drowned her children by rolling her car into the water with the kids in it.

In Baltimore, a mother in Fells Point set fire to her house with her two children in it.

Last year, we had the middle-class Chicago couple who left their 4-year-old and 9-year-old children alone while they went on an upper-class vacation.

The Citizens Action Group, which is underwritten by the Carnegie Corp., reports that one in three victims of physical abuse is an infant less then a year old.

The Children's Defense Fund, the nations' largest policy group, reports that every two hours a child is murdered in this country by guns. Defense Fund President Marian Wright Edeleman says our chidren are getting poorer while the nation gets richer.

The Defense Fund is concerned that radical budget cuts by Congress will have devastating consequences on millions of childen.

You've read about the "disposable children."

We have children being left unattended, thrown in dumpsters, shot by a family member or burned in house fires.

Children don't have a powerful lobby. They can't lobby for themselves. We are giving them "under-care" instead of immediate attention. They are the future but we are stunting their growth with inaction.

Then, in jumps our new Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich with his wrong choice of words -- "orphanages" for parent-less children. The word connotes a Dickensian lifestyle for a kid -- bleak and loveless.

Sure, there are a few good orphanages. "Group-homes" might be a more appropriate word and a better place -- if they are well-run.

As the Child Welfare League of America reports, the price of maintaining a child in an orphanage with support services is $36,000 a year, and the average care for a foster care is $4,800 and a child's share of welfare and food stamps is $2,644.

What about foster care?

Recently, a caseworker told me of the neglect she sees in some foster care households where the kids are being abused but the foster parents are getting a good sum per child.

The good news is that there are some organizations that specialize in child advocacy.

For instance, the Children's Aid Society of New York specializes in the best of foster care. Trustee and past president Charlton Phelps says, "We try to work with the families to reunite the children as soon as possible, if it is feasible. But it is our belief that foster care in good foster homes is the most viable solution."

In the Nov. 28 edition of People magazine, Dr. David A. Hamburg, president of the Carnegie Corp., is quoted as saying, "We need to teach about parenting. It could start in life-science classes in the middle schools, or in community organizations such as boys' and girls' clubs."

He adds that mothers in the work force are a tremendous advantage for society because they are a huge talent pool, but that better arrangements have to be made to compensate for their absence from the home. And that despite glowing accounts, fathers have not picked up the slack.

I agree with Dr. Hamburg. But can we start tomorrow?

Can the 104th Congress, while they debate and haggle over tax cuts and welfare, give us "childfare?" If so, let it roll. The children are waiting.

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