"We are always corrupting the old symbols, drifting away from the old truths. … We smother our values in ritual and entrust them with social observances which rapidly become meaningless." — John W. Gardner.
More and more, Gardner's words ring true today. Utahns take pride in saying we believe in strong families, and we hear it in our places of worship and read it in our news clippings. However, our actions and public policies often differ. It seems there are some who now believe some families are more worthy of help than others, and this is reflected in our public policies.
How we treat needy families today differs from how we treated them in the past, when more Americans were undergoing hard times. We used to believe the poor will always be with us, and it's true today, except now we don't see them or care to see them. Some believe those families are in need of help because of the poor choices they have made and label them as free loaders, lazy and content to their situation in life. We let our legislators, like it or not, reflect our values. We now see policies that are punitive towards families on public assistance by putting them through a gauntlet of regulations that don't make it easy, including drug testing.
The value of families was codified in national policy with the establishment of the program Aid to Families with Dependent Children, or AFDC, over 75 years ago. The original intent was to help mothers keep and raise their children in their own home. The major emphasis was placed on the importance of the mother being in the home to provide the necessary physical and emotional development of children. It was a "widow's pension program;" at that time, the breadwinners, fathers, were dying in war or work accidents.
We still have families in need of help today, mostly single-parent women with children. And the need for healthy growth and development of infants and children may be greater in today's fast-changing and impersonal society. Our public policies now add to the problems our society faces when we ignore the importance of infant brain development and bonding with a parent — a sense of identity, love, security, frustration tolerance, the value of human life and societal values.
We are paying the price for our neglecting the importance of parenting: latch-key children, poor school performance, teen pregnancy, delinquency, addictions, violence and children with no sense of attachment or value of human life or sense of tomorrow.
The current state/federal assistance to families, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, neglects the importance of child development since it forces the mother out of the home to get any job. The TANF program's success should be measured by how well the parent(s) are meeting the social, psychological, educational and economic needs of their children.
Outcomes of the program should measure: reduction of child neglect, abuse and delinquency cases; reduction of teen pregnancies; improved prenatal care and childhood immunizations; improved education rates of children; and reduction of youth crime and domestic violence. Outcomes should not be primarily measured by how many parents are forced to get any job at the expense of their children's development.
In the end, it's not simply about money or programs, rather how well we live and preserve what is meaningful — our family values, the worth of every individual and work for the common welfare. That defines us.
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. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.