Government alone cannot care for children

Matthew White

One of the most important functions of our government at every level is protecting the physical and mental state of children; it’s a shame our government has such difficulty with it.

Consider the plight of children. Children are vulnerable because they’re physically small and mentally undeveloped; they’re vulnerable because they lack the ability to earn money; and they’re especially vulnerable because they lack the life experience to understand the things going on around them.

Unlike adults, misfortune that befalls children is almost never their fault and almost never because of their choices. Rather, the misfortune that befalls children is almost always the fault of the people who should be caring for them.

It is this lack of responsibility on the behalf of a Cleveland woman that should outrage everyone. Recently a 22-year-old mother has been accused of drowning her two daughters in a bathtub. Of course, until the woman has her day in court, she deserves the presumption of innocence. However, what is clear is that she was bathing her two daughters and now her daughters are dead. These are the same daughters who counted on her for everything, the same daughters who deserved a loving, caring, mother to protect them.

As assistant city prosecutor Gayle Williams said, “The victims being 4 – and 2 – years of age represent perhaps the most vulnerable in our society. They deserved the right to be protected.”

Williams is absolutely right. The problem is, the government is largely reactionary when it comes to protecting children in our society. In Ohio, there’s the state level Office of Children and Families, which is part of the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services. But, most of the action takes place at the county level.

According to the ODJFS Web site: “The public children services agencies were created by Ohio law and the structure of each is determined at the local level. Fifty-five public children services agencies are located within the administrative body of the county departments of job and family services and 33 are separate children services boards.”

Having the action take place on the local level is a positive thing because local people have a connection to the community and an understanding of the social environment. People who notice a bad situation are more likely to be comfortable alerting local authorities than distant authorities. And, local authorities have a greater ability to notice a bad situation because they’re physically in the community — not outside it.

While I believe the overwhelming majority of people in Ohio whose job is protecting children are good people and very dedicated to their jobs, I don’t believe the government by itself is adequate in this task.

The truth is people will always be subject to lapses of judgment, mental illnesses (such as the Cleveland woman is claiming) and other ailments, and those will carry over to the children in their care. This can never be eliminated. But, when children are in your care — and when they’re in the care of someone you know — it would never hurt to keep an eye out for potentially dangerous or suspicious situations.

Matthew White is a senior magazine journalism major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].