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The poor as stakeholders

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Old June 17th 08, 08:55 PM posted to alt.support.child-protective-services,alt.support.foster-parents,alt.dads-rights.unmoderated,alt.parenting.spanking
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Default The poor as stakeholders

The poor as stakeholders


The Indiana Commission on Disproportionality in Youth Services held a
forum at Indiana University Southeast Wednesday evening. Those
interested in disproportional minority representation in the areas of
juvenile justice, mental health, child welfare and education were
invited to participate.

Disproportionality is the difference between a group’s representation in
the overall population compared to their representation within a given
group. Minorities are generally overrepresented in the areas listed
above. The commission, created by the General Assembly, is also taking
on concerns of disparities in how services are delivered.

This was the stated purpose for the meeting. There were unfortunate
aspects of the event. There was little attendance or contribution by the
general public, and only a fraction of the comments were entirely
relevant to the stated purpose.

The handful of relevant comments were provided mostly by Clark County
NAACP’s Gary Leavell who spoke to concerns about Clark County youth of
color being profiled by police and being more harshly punished by the
juvenile courts and schools. A woman involved with providing foster care
also testified she had seen children of different races treated
differently within that system with the white children experiencing
better outcomes.

Of the 33 individuals appointed to the commission, only four attended,
two arriving late. The makeup of the commission is somewhat disturbing
as there is only one slot for a youth who has had contact with these
systems and no spot for parents specifically. The single most
distressing fact of the process is the overrepresentation of
organizations, as opposed to individuals, in the makeup of the
commission and forum participants.

Much of the focus was actually on the delivering of services to families
in general. The elephant in the living room which was clearly being
addressed by the mostly white group wasn’t racism and wasn’t explicitly
stated: poverty.

It’s true there is an overrepresentation of minorities is these systems.
However, there is also a disproportionate representation of minorities
among the poor, and poverty is the more likely culprit in poor outcomes
in these systems. With few exceptions, most of the issues addressed
apply to the poor as a multi-racial group.

I discussed this seeming omission of poverty issues with commission
member James Garrett who represents the Indiana Committee on the Social
Status of Black Males. Garrett agreed poverty was the unspoken cause of
the problems under discussion, and gave a surprising answer about the
focus on race and ethnicity. Garrett lamented it is currently considered
elitist to discuss the poor as a group or discuss class as an issue.

That may well be the case, but I suspect that is hardly the entire
explanation. A piece by Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts published
last week bears the headline, “Who speaks for the poor?”

In the context of the still-allowable jokes about “white trash” Pitts
points out there is nothing equivalent to the NAACP for poor white
folks. Further, though the issues affecting the poor of various races
are mostly similar, this socio-economic group tends to be the most
hostile toward other races and therefore unable to work together as a group.

Among the members of any racial or ethnic group, there are going to be
some affluent members who can represent that group’s interests in a way
the poor as a group cannot. Those struggling to make ends meet do not
have the time to form organizations, send out press releases and the like.

In my own research a few years ago focusing on Child Protective Services
(Department of Child Services in Indiana), I found the poor as a group
were incapable of holding the state accountable for its actions towards
them. Lack of access to media, attorneys and the resources to be
politically active contribute to the problem.

Instead of hearing about poverty issues from the people actually
experiencing poverty, those in power hear from organizations dealing
with poverty for a living. Though all of the college-educated white folk
in attendance at Wednesday’s forum did appear to sincerely care about
the children state actions affect, most currently make a living from the
systems they point to as harmful failures and will be better off if the
commission makes recommendations that benefit their particular programs.

Interestingly though, as the meeting wore on, few of the suggestions
attendees put forth that would really help troubled and poor children
were ones necessary for the commission to recommend to the state

Being more involved in our communities, focusing less or material
things, taking responsibility for the kids around us, volunteering as a
mentor, being a role model, giving a kid a job, these things were all
discussed and would go much further to actually have a positive impact
in kids’ lives than any state program. It should also be made clear
there was some consensus that these state systems are currently treating
kids unfairly and doing harm. No one pointed to a current state program
with praise.

The following was sent to me in response to last week’s column: “The
state is now more involved than it has ever been in the raising of
children, and children are now more neglected, abused, and mistreated
than they have been in our time. This is not a coincidence, and, with
all due respect, I am here to tell you: It does not take a village to
raise a child. It takes a family.” — Senator Robert Dole

Jeffersonville resident Kelley Curran considered pointing out that
legislative commissions are disproportionally ineffective, but she knows
the legislature would only propose a commission to study the problem.
Write her at .

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