Every sideways glance, every downcast gaze, every self-conscious glimpse into the shadows reveals children in need.
About 15 million American children live in poverty. In North Carolina, 24% of children live in poverty which is a 25% increase since the economic downturn of 2008. On any given day nationally, almost 1.4 million children, average age of nine, are homeless.
During the 2015-2016 academic year, students were caught with guns in school at least 269 times — that’s more than once per school day. Many children bring firearms to school undetected. The youngest child caught with a gun at school was a 4-year-old boy.
Suicide rates for adolescent boys and girls have steadily been rising since 2007. Suicide rates for boys ages 15-19 increased by 30% from 2007 to 2015 and the rate for girls ages 15-19 doubled in the same period of time.
The number of students who drop out of high school in America is 1.2 million students — one dropout every 26 seconds, 7000 dropouts per day.
Seven million children live with alcoholic parents. Between 1.6--2.8 million children run away from home each year. Alienation, cynicism, depression, hopelessness, lack of connection with others, are all part and parcel of the problems of family breakdown.
Violence among young people is so rampant that it is now considered a public health emergency. Young children taking drugs and having sex is a phenomenon affecting all income levels and ethnic groups. Playground fights that used to end in bloody noses now end in death. Schools that once considered talking in class or sailing a paper airplane across the room a capital offense routinely frisk for weapons and question about drugs.
A good public education, safe streets and family dinners, with both mother and father present, seem like quaint memories of a far-distant past.
What kind of fears must our children overcome when more than two million cases of child abuse are reported each year? While some of these reports are false or unprovable, some experts feel actual cases of abuse exceed the report.
Add this to the problem of drug-addicted babies, opioid epidemic, mental and emotional problems, and the deterioration increases. Breakdown of the traditional family structure leaves children without the anchors of nurturing, the bonding of affection or the mutual support long-term commitment provides.
It is not too late for families. In the face of defeatism and in the midst of this maelstrom, I say, “Families are important. They are worth saving. Families help define us, who we are, where we fit, why we exist. Family gives a child a name, a social class, ethnic identity, and religious heritage.”
But, with no traditional family structure to undergird success, what elements can help a child? Children succeed because of many factors. One is the presence of at least one caring adult. Another is access to a “second chance” –– some opportunity such as education or vocational training or involvement in church. And a third is a deep, personal and abiding faith and the core values that go with it.
If we want to get serious about the increasing number of children who are coming into society ill-fed, ill-housed, ill-educated and ill-cared for, we will have to confront more than the symptoms of family breakdown. We’ll have to roll up our sleeves for hard, child-centered, family-focused work.
Children are spending less time with their parents for many reasons but especially due to the growing absence of their fathers. Adults often place children’s needs behind their own. Two-parent family disintegration is reflected in the high rate of divorce and the steady growth in the number of unwed parents.
Therefore, we must answer this question before any others: “How can we expect to improve the declining well-being of our children without strengthening the family unit?”
You can help by being a friend to the unloved, the dispossessed, the homeless, the walking wounded, the down-and-outer, the underdog. You can give a cup of cold water to a very thirsty world.
Those of us involved in family services have a more imperative reason to show society the way, the truth and the light, for there is no knowing without the truth, no going without the light, and no living without the life.
Working with broken families brings rewards and disappointment, laughter and tears. But it also brings hope for the future, a future we face seeking to think clearly, act purely and love sincerely.