There are undoubtedly a lot of effects the recent economic crisis has had on the world, but most of the discussed effects have been in economic institutions. Adults, who write the great majority of what we read, have paid little attention to the instability, violence, and other effects in the family that have been indirectly caused by the crisis, because the majority of it has not been at their expense.
I recall an incident on the playground, in third grade, when an older boy attacked another boy and screamed all the way into the Principal’s Office, “We need to teach this boy some manners!” I remember being told all the way up through school by friends that their parents beat them. More recently, I have worked with children who would expose wounds after saying, “Look what Mommy/Daddy did to me…. I’s a bad boy/girl…”
Nonetheless, when talking to parents about hitting children, many casually take surprisingly disgusting approaches. “Sometimes, the kid just needs reminded who’s boss!” But, is reasserting parental authority worth the cost of drowning out millions of children’s worthwhile calls for help?
As the economic crisis has worsened, working parents have taken on more work hours, had to pay more for childcare (if not outright refused for inconsistency), and have become more stressed than before. Many parents unable to find work have had to withdraw their children from daycare, depriving them of important socialization. As a result of the economic crisis on the family, cases of child abuse discovered in St. Louis hospitals have reached new heights.
Child abuse, which is caused by everything from bad parenting to extreme psychological problems, is a violent, neglectful, or otherwise demented behavior . Though, it is arguably part of many parenting methods; here, a moderate definition of physically or verbally hurting a child, with no regard for seriously damaging the child. Most psychologists explain it as a behavior typically handed down from parent to child to be socially reproduced in the next generation. When children are raised with violent parents, they assume violence is parenting. Today, families are being put under pressure from the larger economic crisis, with extra stress and harsher economic alternatives.
The Illinois Department of Child and Family Services reported a rise in child abuse cases of 5.8% in 2008; the Chicago area experienced an increase of 9% in child abuse cases, just in the year 2008. Missouri’s Public News Service reported, “In Missouri, child abuse was up 16 percent during the last economic downturn. Policymakers are currently implementing the ‘Strengthening Families Initiative’ at child care centers statewide, where providers are currently being trained on building protective factors in families.” (November 19, 2008)
A later report (April 1, 2009) from MPNS quoted Rebecca Gordon, of Missouri’s KidsFirst, saying, “One in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before the age of 18. If you look at a classroom of kids, whether or not your child is abused, your child knows somebody who has been abused.” Given the problem is so pervasive, it needs to be seen as one that affects us all. Those abused go on to interact with the rest of society and probably the next generation of children. “Children who have been abused are more likely to abuse drugs, not do well in school, they are more likely to be obese; they’re also likely to continue that pattern and marry into violent situations, or be abusive in the future.”
As Gordon states, the problem is one exhibited, socially reproduced, and reenacted by a new generation of parents. Because domestic violence is a “private” problem, it may not seem as easy to spot as an economic crisis. This is why it is important that schools and childcare facilities are closely tied, if not somewhat combined with institutions like the Department of Child and Family Services. Talking about one of the leaps of progress in resolving kinship problems, Gordon said, “One of the biggest changes is that we are able talk about it in our homes, in our communities, in our schools. The legislature is really dealing with it as a community-based problem and really looking at solving it as an investment in the future.” Discerning how and when intervention outside of the domestic partners (by some sort of community or municipal institution) is necessary, can be difficult. I can recall countless occasions where children have confessed a case of abuse to a teacher, friend, or other confidant, but cowered to confess in the face of a questioning authority that could actually intervene and end the abuse.
Understandably, a wrongly suspected parent is a caution to instituting reforms. Parents who raise children under healthy social practices shouldn’t have their children taken away; but no one is suggesting they should. The concern is one that affects abused children more than anyone, so our question should, instead, be: What should we be more cautious of—a wrongly suspected parent, or an abuse case of torture and neglect that could have easily been ended, along with its cycle of violence?
Reforms like the Strengthening Families Initiative pose potential for finding problems of abuse and offering proper support, care, and protection; however, these reforms don’t resolve the basis on which domestic abuse is founded. (SFI attempts to make it easier for children to report abuse.) Today, parents are expected to take the ultimate (almost sole) responsibility for the upbringing of a successful human being, socially, financially, culturally, and sexually. Until these activities are taken out of the privacy and closed doors of domestic life, and children have the opportunity to learn and interact on these bases unhidden, children will unnecessarily miss days of school to hide wounds.
Parents will continue to feel insecure about their job as a parent and revert to more extreme measures and punishments, even when the deck is stacked against them financially. Children will continue thinking their life is the norm—punishment is torture, truth is obedience, alcoholism is peace, and freedom is slavery.
One place to start is socializing all childcare and making these facilities open to all hours. Childcare is another expense that causes working parents more insecurity in the workplace, as well as more stressed out parents. Children must have a place to go that is equal in al these respects—safe and full of care, food and space, and social interaction—regardless of any parental economic status.
An institutional glimpse of how society could bring this and other “private” matters into the public light was in the dreams of the educator John Dewey, who sought to have schools that were 24-hour community centers, technical institutes, academic centers, cultural outlets, eateries, and hubs of public policy discourse. This could pool society’s resources together and allow for a more open, less bureaucratic structure to handle any potential domestic problems. Dewey may not have realized it, but he envisioned what feminists have been doing for well over a century – making issues that have been seen as personal (private), to be seen as political struggles.
If you or someone you know is a victim of child abuse, contact the Department of Children & Family Services, in Illinois: 1-800-25-ABUSE; in Missouri: 1-800-392-3738. To take a victim of domestic violence to a shelter in the St. Louis area, call one of the following shelters:
in the Aton, Illinois area, call Oasis Women’s Center: (618) 465-1978;
in the Belleville, Illinois area, call Violence Prevention Center of Southwestern Illinois: (618) 235-0892;
in the East St. Louis, Illinois area, call Holy Angels Shelter: (618)874-4079;
in St. Louis, Missouri, call Karen House (Catholic Worker) (314) 621-4052.
This article was originally published in the Winter 2009/2010 edition of Autonomy & Solidarity Quarterly (ASQ), Autonomy Alliance, St. Louis, MO.
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