Reducing violence and crime

I was in a discussion with someone recently. The gist of the other person’s position went something like this:

Why should I, who have spent my life becoming educated and working hard to support my family, spend my money to help someone who is poor and unable to support their family to go and have more kids?

You all have heard the argument, or yourself feel this way.

Then you hear about costs of all sorts: Medicaid, government support, education, crime…. I have worked hard and gone without to support my family, and “they” keep having children and expect me and my tax dollars to support them. Usually the solution proposed is stop having babies, but since you’re having one and I don’t think you should, I’m not going to “support” you in this and my denial of resources or disapproval of funding for you to receive help will not reward the behavior.

(I am going to address the latter part of this some other day.)

Or people simply say, I think this is a private concern and not something for which we as a society should be responsible.

I’ve posted a lot recently about why Open Arms does the work we do and the importance of investing in children and parents from the very earliest time – prenatal through birth to postpartum. There are many ways I can come at this (and I have some more coming!), and I’ve been touching on many different perspectives in previous posts.

Every way I come at this, the evidence is inescapable. It is the RIGHT THING TO DO for ALL of us, and the cost to society of NOT doing it is so sky-high that we cannot afford to stand back. We must support mothers and babies from the very beginning.

If you want a world where we can actually have children succeed in school, have lower health care costs, create healthier children and parents, create stable families, lower domestic abuse and have less crime, then you come to the conclusion (and well-respected scientific evidence agrees) that programs that are involved very early, such as the birth doula and outreach doula programs at Open Arms, are worth the small investment for very large gains. And, I will stress that it is not only within poverty that all these issues come up. These issues and the need for support for families cross socioeconomic lines. It is not only “they” who need support, it is “we” who need support. It’s our sisters, daughters, friends, aunts. It’s just that if you have money, it’s a little easier to get it.

So it’s long term change, and it’s powerful. If you are a parent yourself, you know that everything changes when you have a baby – it’s a time when you’re receptive to change, and you have a reason to do it. When one starts parenting feeling competent and strong, one can make healthy choices and continue that way, making good decisions and facing difficulties with confidence. But when one feels out of control, inadequate, unhealthy, and hopeless, nothing changes and cycles of poverty and violence repeat.

Evidence shows again and again (and I’m providing some of it in this blog) that is so much less expensive in terms of time and money and so much more effective to provide support from the beginning – and then not need so much support later! Early intervention works!

In this post, I’m going to talk about crime. The worst stereotype is of course that of the young mother (usually minority, or immigrant, or what have you), having child after child who will be neglected, be a drain on the educational system and society, and eventually all the kids will turn to crime. You know how that stereotype goes.

Here’s a video from yesterday’s King5 Learning for Life called Investing in Kids Now Fights Crime Later.

I’ll quote from the program (my emphasis):

The other program areas for which we advocate are intensive voluntary home visiting programs to help young families develop the skills and have the information they need to get their kids off to a good start, to not engage in inappropriate discipline or at worst, child abuse, and to really promote bonding. Again the research shows that when children get off to that kind of a start they are far less likely to be abused or neglected and far less likely to be involved in crime when they grow up.

The officer goes on to talk about a recent case where a 17-year-old mother had killed her child. He says this mom was alone, with absolutely no support at all. She just didn’t have the skills to raise a child, and it was so overwhelming. He says, “To me, there were two victims.” Yes, an infant murdered, and a 17-year-old whose life is ruined. What if she had a trained outreach doula that she trusted and could relate to, who knew her, who could teach her, support her and connect her to her community, other mothers and role models – even crisis centers – to help? This young girl would not be incarcerated, her life ruined, and her beautiful baby would be alive.

All of us who turn away and say “not our problem” carry some of the burden for this type of story. It is not the baby’s fault. They come into the world just as innocent and open to experiences and love as your children did, your nieces and nephews, all the children that you know and love, and you yourself when you were born. I’d argue that in cases such as the above, it really isn’t even that young mother’s fault, ultimately – she did not act in a vacuum. She had no way to change and grow into a new way of mothering because no one stepped forward to help, and so ultimately two lives were broken. When we as a society fail to be there for our most vulnerable members, our infants and children, then we fail as a society.

Open Arms does not track crime statistics. That’s not our focus.

This is the Open Arms mission statement:

Open Arms embraces a world that cherishes birthing women, their babies, families and communities.

Our mission is to provide services that support, educate, respect, honor and empower women and their families throughout the childbearing year.

And we believe by doing this, so many good things happen.

Visit us on our website to learn more about our programs and the work we do.

Things have gotten a little heavy lately – I’m looking forward to posting on some lighter topics over the next few days!

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