There are three human-species level “scars” resulting from the de-valuation of women, intrinsic to the development of science as deductive specialization, industrialization, imperialism, and capitalism:
Scar 1: The de-valuation and displacement of aboriginal communities, discounted as un-civilized. The cultural normalization of “empire-building” was at the cost of active disdain for women-led internal civic cultures in organically balanced communities.
Scar 2: Slavery was, and remains, the male-dominated ownership of de-valued aboriginal and organically-based human communities, later reduced to individual victims, usually women, disrupted by force and used as fuel for commerce.
Scar 3: The emergence of post-industrialized “child welfare” systems de-valued the relationship between our species’ nurturers and their children. The taken-by-force disruption of families is a recent artifact of so-called “civilized” societies and an act so blind to the intrinsic value of the caregiver/child relationship that it is unknown within healthy tribal communities.
These three “Species Scars” are driving forces to what David Korten and others call “The Great Turning.”
We are an industrializing species that has de-valued nurturing and care-giving to such an extreme imbalance that we actually call the deliberate disruption of dysfunctional families “child welfare;” although this is currently trending toward child “well-being.” Mounting scientific evidence, including neurological, cognitive, learning theory, psychological, sociological, and economic, reveal that severing the primary caregiver/child attachment bond is an injustice, usually to women, and always to children, in every industrialized society on the planet. Disrupting families is intrinsically harmful to both children and primary caregivers with life-long sub-optimization repercussions for themselves, and often for those around them. In the U.S., and in Connecticut, more specifically, we are seeing a rapid transition from a short-term outcome policy monopoly, the “child welfare” system, to a long- and short-term outcome paradigm, the child well-being system (https://www.childwelfare.gov/well-being/).
The core of child well-being policy, including the recruitment and training of care-providers for special needs kids, would optimize wellness outcomes by giving consistent priority to re-investing in the primordial relationships within families, regardless of dysfunction/disabilities. In this policy context, the relationships of greatest consideration are those between caregiver and children. Nurturing caregiver/child relationships is essential bedrock for optimizing wellness outcomes. This suggests moving in the direction of “zero-tolerance” for the disruption of families. What might this look like?
When neglect/abuse is confirmed, the child-specific training and resources that are currently invested in recruiting alternative caregivers would, instead, be invested within the family, without disruption. Where criminal intent is a factor, well-trained mentors would be introduced into the family environment, beginning with emergency support and sustained through the crisis, gradually withdrawing in-home support as wellness develops and becomes self-sustaining. This form of intervention is largely presaged by the evidence-based “Homebuilders” program (http://www.cebc4cw.org/program/homebuilders/).
The large majority of traumatizing disruptions pertaining to the challenges of raising kids, especially special needs kids, are economically related. That is, if the same level of public-dollar support for at-risk/neglected children were available to the primary caregivers (often bio-parents, but not always), perhaps as administered by a Parent Mentor on a transitional basis, remaining needs could be addressed through family skills-training. “Child-specific” training is already standard operating procedure for foster care providers committing to a special needs child. Under the scenario of children remaining with their currently dysfunctional parents, any child-specific training that a Parent Mentor would require would be simultaneously delivered to the bio-parents, as a transitional team.
Community-based Family Intervention Therapy: Creating Sustainable Well-Being Community Project Teams
Part of any dysfunctional family intervention plan could include their joining, or starting, a multi-generational “sustainable well-being community” Project Team, composed of family, friends, neighbors, but also seeded to assure cohesive potential and the development of inclusively effective communication skills. Advantages are particularly acute for families that include special needs kids. With 20% of our kids now having mental health issues, with a trend that projects as few as 60% of our kids graduating from high school, with the doubling of High-Functioning Autistic Spectrum and Attention Deficit in recent years, perhaps optimized family therapy design should begin operating under the reasoned assumption that all kids are at-risk, and the entire generation under 18 might best be thought of as a Transitional Generation. The end of the fossil-fuel economic base, with concomitant environmental challenges, and the burgeoning information-based economy are highly relevant to projects aspiring to create well-being environments WITH young people, and future generations after them.
Multi-generational Project Teams could have self-advocacy, STEM, environmental, financial literacy, planning skills, budgeting, nutrition, and other potential well-being outcomes at the individual, family, and community levels.
Enhanced stability and reduced volatility optimally improve long-term academic, social, health, and economic prospects. Regardless of the category of caregiver services delivered, it is the enhancement of affectively confluent living and learning environments that most efficaciously improves long-term outcomes. This has been demonstrated through empirical studies at Yale University (see especially Aaron Antonovsky, salutogenetic effect in the medical sociology literature); Harvard University (see especially Shawn Achor, Positive Psychology in their Psychology Department); and the primary efficiency of retaining richly-confluent (low stress) inductive triggers in the affective neural network to optimize learning in the Universal Design for Learning (UDL, www.cast.org).
For an interesting and practical synergetic model to help achieve long-term sustainable outcomes for at-risk kids and families, with inclusive and emergent benefits for local community and bio-regional systems, see www.socialcommunicationfoundation.org.
As a program development Thought Experiment, imagine that Connecticut had , in addition to the current menu of excellent child well-being programs and services, state-wide outcomes you might realistically hope for from a youth-led “Well-being Development Corp.” This Development Corp might be associated with the Department of Children and Families, an existing state-wide DCF contractor, or child advocate office, as an affiliated partnership, with its own Advisory Board, to include at least 50% High Functioning Socially Challenged young people, up to age 30. The Development Corp’s responsibility is to resource Sustainable Well-being Community Project Teams, as outlined above, but also as volunteer sprouts.
For example, within the past three months I have talked informally to individuals, ages 11 to 60, interested in well-being community projects including converting suburban/urban commercial and residential acreage to organic edible and ornamental garden landscapes, saturating a metropolitan region with murals covering cinder-block exteriors, developing a High-Functioning Challenged Communicator STEM Learning Center, designing gaming apps for edible landscape and mural design, creating an on-line gaming/networking state-wide hub for connecting well-being community projects into a synergetic whole. “Resourcing” Well-being Community Project Teams would include:
Short-term therapeutic facilitation for building inclusive project teams. Facilitators would be skilled in effective communication across the great socially-challenged v. socially-integrated boundary. This is an essential first step to optimize a mutual learning group (and family) culture.
Project design and implementation technical support.
Project financial training and budgeting.
Project development training:
- Business/entrepreneurial/community development and organizing/ skill sets,
- Philanthropic research, planning, and revenue projection,
- Grant/Investment proposal writing, including financials,
- Social/environmental/economic short- and long-term outcome measurement and reporting.
Results Based Accountability (RBA) reporting and CQI analysis.
Sweeping Team Project leaders into the Well-being Development Corp’s multi-project resourcing system, and as Advisory Board members. This could emerge as an AmeriCorp funded employment site.
RBA trend analysis could culminate with at least annual theoretical and policy implications for local and global sustainable long-term wellbeing, to include
- learning systems design and technology,
- environmental, economic, health, education, and family well-being support systems.
Education and advocacy networking, as necessary, informed by the Well-Being Development Corp’s RBA trend analysis.
Short-term Revenue Prospects:
Any list of prospects cannot be both concise and exhaustive. There are many potential in-state and national first-tier prospects: youth , workforce, and economic development; socially challenged technological and other therapeutic interventions; child, family, community well-being; and STEM learning facilitation. Smaller, and with long-term trends predicted to go downward, revenue potential comes from the in-state private sector. Larger, and more resilient, funding prospects are national, including private and public sectors. Looking only at the national public sector, germane grant programs are easily, even somewhat redundantly, found with the National Science Foundation, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Education, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Again, this list is not intended to be inclusive, although the National Science Foundation may be construed to include the others mentioned, and several more.
Long-term Revenue Prospects:
Re-investing in the primary caregiver/child relationship could re-direct dollars from the following federal and state expenditures, with a slow, long-term trend of decreasing cash outlay, in contrast to the current faster trend upward:
Current systems experiments with Medicaid and CHIP, inspired by prevention and well-being outcome improvement (e.g. Health Care Round Two Innovation Grants), could lead to a much more long-term perspective on the prudent use of insurance reimbursement.
School nurse positions could be paid through CHIP/ Medicaid/private insurance to function as the health and wellness case manager for not only the children in the school, but for their family units as well.
Insurance paid school-based nursing could include supervision of primary caregivers choosing to provide their own in-home health care to their medically complex and special needs dependents. To illustrate, instead of paying $30/hour for a nurse to monitor/medicate my son for 40 hours/week, Medicaid could pay me $12/hour for 40 hours to monitor/medicate my son, with monthly on-site supervision through the school nurse Medical Home service. Both short- and long-term health outcomes optimize when primary caregivers choose to provide their own medically-supervised family prevention and maintenance care. For lower-income caregivers, the option of $12/hour for self-care, rather than bringing in a home health-care aide, could make it economically feasible to choose the self-care option. Further, it would be interesting to know how many home health-care aides are leaving their own medically complex dependents, young and old, to take care of other people’s dependents, only because the current home-care services discriminate against self-provider care.
Medicaid/CHIP/private insurance reimbursement to the agencies of Social Workers serving at-risk kids, needing tangible goods for their well-being, such as school uniforms, backpacks, school supplies, summer/after-school enrichment, beds, toiletries; all on a last-resort basis. Covenant to Care for Children’s 26 years of experience with providing these goods through at-risk kids’ Social Workers (in child welfare, school, hospital, community-based agencies) amply demonstrates that guaranteeing every child, at all times, what is needed for well-being and full development costs pennies on the long-term dollar, even when outcomes are compared only at the individual level (omitting spin-off values at the family, community, social, and global levels).
For families that choose homeschooling, sharing savings to the school system with the family would reduce overall costs of public education, environmental costs for transportation and building large, burgeoning school structures. Homeschooling also improves learning outcomes, and perhaps long-term resiliency, for the entire family. With fingertip access to a wealth of information and cultural expression from across the planet and universe unsurpassed by the best universities in the world twenty-five years ago, and the rich social/cultural development of homeschooling networks, the arguments against this huge financial savings become more anemic with each passing month. At least for lower-income caregivers, shared savings to the school system are a re-investment in a household economy that will promote higher well-being and learning for the entire family unit.
Extensive research points to the enormous cost, and lack of wellness, resulting from the break-up of caregiver/child relationships. When neglect/abuse is confirmed, the child-specific training and resources that are currently invested in recruiting alternative caregivers would, instead, be invested within the family, without disruption. To ensure, and optimize, the well-being of vulnerable children and families requires a system adaptation that does not itself cause negative experiences that “color how future experiences are understood” (from the DHHS Request for Proposals, p. 2, Diligent Recruitment of Families for Children in the Foster Care System). Programs like Homebuilders, and many more well-being preservation program designs, if fully optimized over the long-term, are predicted to result in more temporary crisis-intensive expenses rather than long-term subsidies. Further, long-term special needs support would more cost-effectively benefit high-risk families, rather than a foster-care provider.
Diligent efforts to bring limited child welfare resources into high-risk families, without disruption, also responds to civil rights and justice concerns. The Multi-Ethnic Placement Act (MEPA) explicitly prohibits a discriminatory fee structure. The existing foster care recruitment paradigm provides remuneration that is made available to any qualifying adult except the current caregivers, despite any evidence that this same level of remuneration would significantly change the well-being potential for the intact family. This looks like a class action suit waiting to happen, and legal wrangling has demonstrated a profound inability to optimize long-term sustainable well-being outcomes. It is to be avoided, especially when there is a cost-effective alternative immediately at hand.
Communication and Well-being System Design
This all reminds me more than just a little bit of Robert Norton and David Brenders enthymematic perspective, in Communication & Consequences: Laws of Interaction, 1996, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Norton was my Honors Thesis Advisor at the University of Michigan, now happily and privately consulting in Australia. Sometimes when I listen to Catherine Hogan talk about her “Inclusion Teaming” process, I wonder what would happen if every kid grew up in a family with adults that learned, and practiced, the principles of enthymematic communication. Perhaps my sustainable well-being community would have already arrived, wherever I choose to live.