Child death and child neglect and child neglect.
For ten years I have racked my brain over what can be done to either improve the lot of children who are born into circumstances of material and spiritual impoverishment, or reduce the likelihood of it happening in the first place. Initially I looked at the problem theoretically and philosophically, then I got involved at a political level, then a practical level for a number of years. And still I find myself without a single hard and fast answer.
I was prompted to reflect on this after a conversation yesterday with someone who continues to work for the community organisation I was a volunteer for. She told me that it has expanded significantly but wasn't necessarily more effective. Government funding was good but they were now getting compulsory referrals from CYF making the job different and difficult. In the past referrals came in on a voluntary basis which meant clients were amenable - well, initially at least. So the need is growing but the private/public mix isn't the silver bullet.
Scene-set. The CYF caseworker refers dysfunctional families to a community organisation that can provide volunteer mentoring. The government saves taxpayer money by harnessing an unpaid workforce. But to the dysfunctional family this new intrusion presents just another hurdle they have to jump over to continue to receive a benefit (or perhaps keep custody of a child). That's my take on it anyway. Every client I ever had in 5 years was on a benefit.
The idea that people need to meet criteria to receive state support is inherently a conservative one. What pains me about it is it legitimises state support where it shouldn't. But even worse it pushes already damaged people further into a 'them and us' mindset, a feeling of sullen resentment and alienation which drives an instinct to rebel and reject. That manifests in the way they treat their children.
So not only are we back to square one but possibly minus square one. The children are probably even more vulnerable than they were before extra pressure was brought to bear on (usually) the single mother.
Time pressure doesn't allow me to return to my volunteering and on the basis of what was described to me, I wouldn't want to.
But I keep coming back to two broad propositions for the state, which will continue to monopolise the problem for some time yet. It has got to stop incentivising childbirth and start incentivising prevention. Stop paying people to have children and start paying them not to. And it has got to stop counselling against adoption and get more children into stable and loving homes from the outset.
The massive escalating intervention - private, public or a mix - is usually too much, too late.