Since this is true, a society should make every possible attempt to enhance each of these environments in order to increase the likelihood of growing healthy, productive and caring citizens who can eventually contribute to the betterment of society.
Even if one environment fails the children, if the other two environments are healthy, the child is likely to succeed. For example, if a child has a troubled home life and nothing can be done to improve it, a positive school environment filled with caring teachers or a healthy neighborhood filled with positive role models can help reduce the risk of that child failing.
Sadly, for many children, they daily confront failure in all three environments — the home, the school, and the community. A statistical portrait of childhood in the United States provided by the Children’s Defense Fund reveals some disturbing trends. In one of the richest countries on earth, more than 14 million children live in poverty. One in 8 under the age of 12 actually goes to bed hungry.
Compared to white children, black children are four times more likely to be poor, more likely to have low birth weights and twice as likely to die before their first birthday. Some 30 percent of the nation’s school children are estimated to be at risk for academic failure. More than 10 million children are now affected by their parents’ substance abuse. More than 10 million children are in need of mental health service with 3 million children having a serious emotional disturbance. The stability of the family unit continues to decline with almost 40 percent of all babies born going home from the hospital to a single-parent family.
Our response as a society is as disturbing as the statistical portrait painted above. In the United States, we spend more than $100 per person on prisons and slightly more than $6 per child on Head Start programs. Currently, we spend about $385 per person to lock up children and adolescents and only $13 to prepare them to benefit from school and stay out of prison. One of 3 children go to bed without a father in the home, which translates to more than a million babies living in poverty.
Because all societies are dependent on stability in all three areas, our lack of attention to each of these areas as a society has serious consequences, not only for the individual child, but also for the society at large. Therefore, attention must be given to each of these areas in order to counteract the tremendous difficulties our children face.
This demands a united front where we all recognize our responsibility to step up and make a contribution. No single home, school, church or community agency can solve the problems that confront us. The answer lies with each of us and is directly proportional to our willingness to become involved.
Repeatedly, when I talk to adults who came from troubled backgrounds and still succeeded, they tell stories of a handful of individuals — usually one or two — who stood by them, believed in them and never gave up on them.
If you choose, you can make a difference — a difference that may be felt for generations to come.