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Why are we abusing our children in South Carolina?

Posted: March 4, 2014 10:01 a.m.
Updated: March 5, 2014 5:00 a.m.

This is a simple question, and the answer is not simple, but there is something that we can all do to help, and we can do it right now -- today.

Before we go any further, let’s face up to the reality that we are, in fact, abusing our children -- or at least many of them. For many of our kids, about 288,000 of them to be more precise, the sad truth is that things are bad …and they are getting worse, a lot worse.

First the facts. The definitive measure of how kids are doing in S.C. and the U.S. is an ongoing project of the Casey Foundation called Kids Count. Since 1990, they have been compiling the data, crunching the numbers and provided a clear and data-based analysis of what’s happening with our children. And because they have been doing this for 23 years, we can make valid analyses of changes over time. They track dozens of different measures and combine them into four broad categories: 1) economic well-being, 2) education, 3) health and 4) family and community. They then add all of this together and come up with a scale of how each county and each state compares with others. (Just Google “South Carolina Kids Count” for all the details and data.)

So, where do we stand? South Carolina ranks 45th in the overall well-being of our children. And, we are going in the wrong direction; last year we ranked 43rd.

And worst of all, we are gaining speed in the wrong direction!

From 2000 to 2012 the portion of our kids living in poverty has risen for 19 percent to 27 percent today. Since 2008 alone, the increase has been a shocking 42 percent. Today, more than one in every four children in our state is living in poverty.

As with all such studies there is both good news and bad news but the overall conclusion is clear: we are failing our children.

So why is this? Who is responsible? And how do we do something about it?

First, many people will say it is the parents fault, and in one sense they are right. Every parent is, or at least should be, ultimately responsible for their children. It’s been that way since Adam and Eve had Cain and Abel. But life isn’t that simple and fate does not deal us all the same hand. Some of us are born with three aces into relative ease and privilege; others get a pair of threes with the deck stacked against them.

I truly believe that every parent wants the best for their children and most will work hard and sacrifice to make a better life for their kids. The hard reality is that some parents just don’t know how to do this or don’t have the tools or resources to make it work no matter how hard they try.

Sure, some folks beat the odds and succeed no matter what they begin with, but most don’t and never have. Remember, it was the Garden of Eden, and the parents couldn’t keep Cain from killing Abel.

Second, many folks want to blame the government, especially state government, which is charged with providing some basic level of services and support for its citizens. Whether it’s education or job training or access to health care, there are lots of things that our state government can do to make it either easier or harder for our citizens to succeed. The problem in South Carolina is that state government just isn’t doing enough to make it easier -- at least not when compared to the vast majority of states in the Union -- see above for details.

A big problem is that most decisions in the legislature these days affecting kids are being made by white baby boomers with middle class upbringings who grew up watching Leave it to Beaver and Father Knows Best. They seem to act as if this should be the reality for families today and if somehow families look different and there are problems, then folks just need to go back to the good old days when Ward and June Cleaver set the standard for family behavior. The problem is South Carolina is not a television show where the minor daily problems of life get solved in 30 minutes. It just ain’t so … and it never was.

They can do better … a whole lot better, and they should.

So third, that leaves us … we the people. We all need to take a hard look at ourselves in the mirror and ask what we are doing. Here’s a simple test: is there a child or a family that needs help that you are personally involved with helping on a regular basis?

I’m not asking if you give money at church or you occasionally volunteer with the local charity. I’m asking if there are real people in your community who you are personally helping -- folks you regularly are involved with and lend a hand to? What is their name and where do they live?

If you are having trouble with this one, then here is where you can start. You don’t have to be rich or even middle class to help. Everyone knows someone who is worse off than they are -- who maybe didn’t even draw a pair of threes -- who you can help.

It doesn’t take a government agency or a formal program. It just takes all of us to look around, find a kid or family who needs some help, and do what we can.

Ultimately, the blame game is largely a waste of time. Sure, parents need to do more, and state government needs to do a whole lot more, but ultimately it’s up to us.

This is how we begin to stop and repair the abuse our children are suffering.

We can all do this and we can start today.

(Phil Noble is a businessman in Charleston and president of the SC New Democrats, an independent reform group founded by former Gov. Richard Riley. His column is provided by the S.C. News Exchange.)

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