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Welfare and school reform are two of the most widely discussed issues in politics today. Many people are calling for reduction or elimination welfare programs as well as programs that provide breakfast and lunch at schools. They argue that people should be able to provide for themselves and their children with minimal government assistance, and spending other people’s tax dollars to assist the less fortunate only makes the problem worse. The main problem with this line of thinking is that it forgets about the children involved.
Children have no control over what family they are born into. Many are born into situations, such as single parent families, where the families have no way of giving their children a good chance of developing into healthy, well adjusted adults. Something must be done to break this cycle, because besides helping children to develop to their full potential, government assistance “saves society the costs incurred when intellectually and socially impaired children grow up to be intellectually and socially impaired adults”(Collins 59).
The need for some sort of assistance for many children became obvious to me on a volunteer project I did in high school. The summer after my junior year I took a trip to San Antonio with about twenty other students. We were divided between two different projects, and I went to work in a summer day-care program in an underprivileged area. The day-care was for children aged infant to eighteen, and on an average day about 175 children would come through. They only had two full time workers, and relied on volunteer groups that came through about once or twice a month to help them.
They used to have more workers, but lacked the funding necessary to keep anyone on permanently. Many of the children were dropped off before the center opened at 8:00 in the morning, and the meals they received at the center were the only meals they got all day. Almost all the children showed a great need for attention and affection. It was this experience that made me realize that many children grow up without a real chance at a decent life.
Helping children early is crucial. Much research has been done recently on early childhood development, and there is much evidence that there are windows of learning for the development of vision, feelings, language and other things. A window of learning means that there is a certain period of time in child development when the brain “demands certain types of input in order to create or stabilize certain long-lasting structures”(Nash 53). This type of research backs up the idea that helping kids as early as possible is very important in order to insure proper development. The problem that arises is that there are many families, especially single parent ones, that cannot afford to stay at home or provide their children with quality child care. The current welfare system does allow states to let the mother care for the infant for as long as a year before they must seek a job, but most states require it much earlier, as early as 12 weeks after the infant is born (Collins 60). I would propose a system where the mother would be given a year before having to look for a job. During this time she, along with her husband if still married, would be required to attend weekly classes or counseling sessions that would teach them nutritional, educational, and other care that is essential for the child to reach its full potential.
After the age of one, a government funded program of day care needs to be set up. This would allow underprivileged families to afford decent child care. This could also help the conditions of the day cares such as the one | described in San Antonio improve, insuring that the children are provided with adequate care. Federal regulations about things such as the ratio of staff to children and safety standards would improve the environment the children grow up in, and in many cases be better than living at home.
Another concern in the development of children is proper nutrition. School lunch programs that provide free or reduced lunches help many children get their only decent meal of the day. Many areas are starting to provide school breakfast programs, and this is being met with much opposition. People feel that they shouldn’t have to use tax dollars to provide a meal for children that they should receive before they get to school. But, the sad truth is that many children aren’t given breakfast before they are sent to school. Some research suggests that eating breakfast helps children perform better during school hours by increasing their attention and motivation. Test scores and sports performance of children who eat breakfast on a regular basis tend to be higher than those of children who don’t eat breakfast (Wardlaw & Insel 640). Most of the opposition to programs like the one I have proposed is based on money. People simply don’t feel that it is necessary for their hard earned tax dollars to be used to raise other peoples children. They also point to the fact that there is no hard evidence that these types of programs will really work. However, there is a certain urgency for something to be done to break the cycle of poverty and stagnation. In referring to programs for young children, Isabel Sawhill, a scholar at the Urban Institute has written, “The evidence is always mixed. We simply do not know whether they work. In these cases, one must weigh the risk of doing something and having it not work against the risk of doing nothing and missing an opportunity to improve lives. It can be just as costly to not fund a potentially successful program as it is to fund a potentially unsuccessful one” (Collins 62). Helping children today is an investment in the future of our country, and the potential rewards outweigh the risks.
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