“If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do matters very much.”
— Jacqueline Kennedy
Though Mrs. Kennedy was speaking of herself when she made this statement, I think society would benefit if we took “you” to mean “we.”
The headlines concerning children have been horrendous lately: a father charged with killing his 6-week-old son; a 4-year-old found beside the highway in the early hours of the morning; a 3-year-old found in the cold because he’d been left alone in an apartment and was trying to find his mom; children living in meth labs — and this is just the Tri-Cities. I could go on, but I won’t. If you live in America and pay any attention to the news, you know what I’m talking about.
Last weekend I spoke with a cable guy who said he has seen children living in atrocious conditions, but their parents appear unconcerned and certainly not ashamed. (Like all of us, he is required to report the neglect to protective services, which, I understand, is stretched to the breaking point.)
How do we allow this to happen? It’s a question I’ve been asking myself a lot this past week. It is so easy to tsk-tsk and condemn the perpetrators, but what am I doing to help the situation? What can I do?
And then I thought of Mrs. Kennedy’s quote. Whatever the United States is, whatever we as a people achieve, it means nothing if we don’t see to our children.
But how do we do that? No matter how I picture it, I end up with a police state, in which couples are tested genetically, trained and licensed before they are allowed to have children; where random home inspections are conducted; where a one-strike-you’re-out policy exists — mess up and your children are given to someone who will care for them properly.
Who hasn’t said, “You have to have a license to get married, but anyone can have a child?” I’m not sure we really want that kind of intrusion into our lives. So what do we do?
I have to think our attitudes can make a difference. If children and their well-being were our first priority, there would be a seismic shift in the way our resources are allocated, though I suspect we’re going to have to do a lot more than throw money at the problems.
What if our child protective service agencies were fully staffed, however? How many children would we save? What if every child in need had a loving foster home within a system adequately funded and staffed to meet their needs?
What if public service announcements, advertisements and a host of celebrities urged us to put kids first? What if we did? What would America be like then?
What if? What if? What if?
It’s obvious I have questions, but no answers. I’m just another person saying, “Somebody, do something, quick,” while I look over my shoulder to see if the person behind me steps up and takes over.
The truth remains: We need to take care of America’s kids. If we mess that up, nothing else matters.
Jan Hearne is Tempo editor for the Johnson City Press. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.