Philanthropy in America grew out of concern for one's neighbor and the deep values Americans held about caring for each other, rooted in volunteerism by individuals, churches and non-profit groups. As our society became more complex during the industrial revolution, caring for one's neighbor was replaced with impersonal government bureaucracies, which quickly multiplied into specialties, especially when it came to helping families and children. America "institutionalized" caring.
With the advent of government intervening to help children and families, the sense of individual responsibility, of being my "brother's keeper," was quickly replaced by impersonal bureaucracies and professionals that institutionalized the notion of caring. Volunteerism and individuals caring was discouraged and replaced by simply writing a check or "donating" to the IRS each year. As a consequence, "my neighbor's problem is the government's, not mine," which created the impersonal nature of our mobile society, and gave rise to the welfare industrial complex.
Today, we have a proliferation of programs created around symptoms of human problems. Years ago, Congress was preoccupied with the drug problem; "today's special" is youth crime and child abuse. Unfortunately we continue to make the same mistake we did with the war on poverty: we hired an army of mercenaries and never enlisted the civilians to help fight the battle.
Perhaps the greatest injury bureaucracies have done to children is to break up families and refer them through the gauntlet of multiple and impersonal delivery systems designed by and for the convenience of the professionals. The bureaucracies are insulated from any scrutiny by worn out principles incorporated in the delivery of government programs: "non-duplication of services, collaboration, communication and coordination."
The result — the creation of monopolies that give poor customer service and have no incentive to change since they are the "only show in town."
One of the myths elected officials and the public have grown to believe is that "professionals" are the only ones that understand the problem and know the needed solutions. They are never challenged to produce a product since they are caring people who could solve the problem, "if only they had more money." They believe the best place for the child is in the home.
There is no question; experience shows infants and children need to be nurtured during their first three years. Infants need a caring adult, the parent, to care for them. The government professionals, however, have created a program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) that is in direct conflict with that basic need, as it requires that the parent leave the home to find any job. Forgotten is the importance of the early development of infants and children and the negative effects of such a policy.
Instead, policymakers should promote the healthy development of infants and children by supporting families in that effort. Furthermore, we should renew America's commitment to the value of philanthropy — caring for one's neighbor — by supporting voluntary, private, nonprofit, community and church efforts. Government's role should be that of a catalyst in mobilizing the talent and good will that exist in our communities by contracting with community groups that can hire individuals who are part of the community to be served. They understand and can identify with those in need of help. They have the passion and commitment of caring.
For too long, we have left helping to the professionals and allowed for the caring of our neighbors to become impersonal and institutionalized. Let us rekindle the gift of giving.
A Utah native, John Florez has been on the staff of Sen. Orrin Hatch, served as former Utah Industrial Commissioner and filled White House appointments, including Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor and Commission on Hispanic Education.