Herb Paine: No Time For Smoke And Mirrors When It Comes To Kids' Security

By Herb Paine
December 19, 2013

Arizona's alarm bells are ringing about children falling through the cracks of a system that is supposed to safeguard them. This time, it is the failure of the state's Children Protective Services to investigate over 6,000 reports of child abuse.

Once again, a familiar cycle unfolds, a progression from shock and indignation to finger pointing to the formation of another committee.

Child welfare advocates, parents, social workers, politicians and pundits have all chimed in, each assigning blame and demanding change. It is a repeat performance of past demonstrations of public concern about the wellbeing of our children that dissipates while the kids wait for hope and rescue.

Meanwhile, add to the 6,000 the thousands of other kids that fall through the cracks of our educational system, who live in poverty, who go to bed hungry, and you begin to see a tragedy whose scope is breathtaking, a perennial and unabated crisis that no amount of handwringing will redress.

What I can say with confidence is that another study and another committee and another sacrificial lamb will not solve the problem or prevent future catastrophes.

I am reminded of how many commissions and task forces I have sat on over five decades that have focused on children at risk, and it reminds me of how little rhetoric has translated into meaningful action. Recall, for example, the final report of the governor's special commission on child protective services in 2003 that asked why the horror stories of abused and neglected kids kept happening that declared the system was neither well-designed nor operated and that commission recommended comprehensive changes in structure and operation. A decade later, it is deja vu all over again, and the promises of change remain unfulfilled.

The fact is that that we agree very little on how best to care for and protect the children among us, about the rights of a child and about fundamental principles of child rearing. When one mother's spanking is seen by another mother as abuse; when judges, in the name of family preservation and unification, return children to an uncertain or perilous environment; when it is easier to get a buck to build a jail than it is to save a kid's life…Well, let's stop there.

There is nothing in this public drama that promises real long-term solutions. No amount of organizational restructuring or infusions of additional dollars is a substitute for a universal agreement that the protection and healthy development of our children is a moral, economic and cultural imperative.

Agree on this, etch it into the minds and hearts of legislators, render it the urgency that it deserves, and then maybe we can look kids squarely in the eye and say that we practice what we sing in all those songs that say the children are our future.

Herb Paine is a business strategy consultant and social critic.