Saturday, July 18, 2009

Sins of the Parents

photo from SF Chronicle

There was an article in today’s San Francisco Chronicle about a little boy named Gavin. Gavin is thought to be four years of age, and he’s homeless. He spent much of his time panhandling with his mother on the mean streets of SF and at the Embarcadero BART Station.

After months of watching this child live this life, SF’s Child Protective Services finally got on board and took Gavin into protective custody. The article is here if you want to read it.

Gavin is the child in the picture. Yes, he’s clean and clothed and looks fed. Apparently his parents are together, but he’s seen with his mom nearly every day, asking passersby for money.

But does he deserve to be on the streets begging for money?

From prior articles in the Chron, plenty of assistance has been offered to Gavin’s mother. Temporary housing, beds, child care so Gavin doesn’t have to hang out on the streets. She refuses. No doubt there is a mental illness component, probably even drug abuse, and for now in the United States, you can’t drag people off because of poor decisions like she’s made.

Obviously handing a monthly check over to these parents isn’t going to get the job done. Taking care of Gavin is probably way down on their list of priorities.

I’m not saying that Gavin’s parents don’t love him. He’s just perhaps not their #1 priority in life.

The foster care system in this country leaves a bit to be desired, but it’s certainly better than having no system at all. One can’t help but wonder if group homes/”orphanages” could be better places if they were given more public funds. Where do those funds come from? They are the funds currently handed over to adults in the form of Calworks, SSI, and any other “entitlement”* program out there that sends a check to a family so the child can be taken care of. No doubt there are people out there looking to work with children, people with degrees in early childhood education who would relish helping children get on their feet, help them grow into responsible adults and not end up like their parents.

Weed out the foster parents who like getting the check from the county and who don’t necessarily have the children’s best interests at heart.

Kids don’t ask to be born, but some adult humans have the thought processes of a cat or dog in heat. No idea of the long-term consequences of having sex and the implications. In the case of a dog or cat, those babies learn to fend for themselves quickly. Human babies of course cannot. A four-year old should be playing, carefree, secure in a home with at least one parent who puts the kid’s care as the #1 priority, not worrying about his next meal or where he is going to sleep that night. The kid gets fed before the grown-up. The kid gets clothing before the grown-up. The kid goes to the doctor before the grown-up. The kid gets shelter before the grown-up. the kid goes to school and is given every opportunity for an education.

So why is it that irresponsible behavior gets you a check from the government (in various forms) for 18 years?

The kid deserves to be cared for, and if that’s in a group home (or loving foster care) where he or she will enjoy a stable life, so be it. Perhaps streamlining the adoption process would encourage more people to open their hearts and homes to children in need. Sometimes severing parental rights are the best thing for a child.

As a society we seem to forget who the victim is in Gavin’s scenario. By forgetting who the victim is, we set up a child for a life of failure—no education, no sense of personal responsibility. Gavin's parents' choices are what keeps them on the merry-go-round cycle of homelessness, joblessness, perhaps substance abuse. Gavin has no choice but to follow his mother to her day job of panhandling, and face it, he's an adorable prop. I'd give my last dollar to that kid, knowing he will be giving it to his mother for whatever it is she wants first. Maybe Gavin gets a Happy Meal out of it ...

One child at a time … someday Gavin may understand and thank CPS. For now, I hope he is surrounded by people who aren’t afraid to hug him and tell him that things will be better.

* I really really dislike the use of the term entitlement. No one is entitled to anything—government is not the teat that nourishes us all. It kills the productive members of society and keeps the dead weight fed, clothed and in some situations, housed. I’m not talking about someone down on their luck, someone who has lost his or her job due to the current economic situation our wonderful government has gotten us into—I’m talking about the generations of families who believe entitlement programs are a way of life.


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