The face of a young child
by Joan Sharp, Executive Director, Children's Services of Sno-Valley
April 21-27 is the National Week of the Young Child, a national effort to highlight the issues related to educating, strengthening, nurturing, and supporting young children and their families so that each can reach full potential.
Working for a children's agency, I am daily awash in a sea of data about social problems. The above just skims the surface of reports that clutter my desk.
- Young children from poor families who receive a quality early preschool education are less frequently referred to special education, more frequently graduate from high school and have higher employment rates and few arrests as adults than their peers without this advantage.
- If a female child is physically and sexually abused, she is four times more likely to become pregnant as a teen.
- Victims of child abuse have higher levels of aggression, violence and incarceration.
Risk and protective factors, intersystem issues, community norms, programs to prevent violence, substance abuse and child sexual abuse treatment, crime statistics, strategies to improve child and family health...
Pretty soon it all begins to blur. Too many problems, too much data, too complex, too few real signs of progress.
To regain my balance, every now and then I need to step back. I look for the bigger picture. Things begin to sort out again. The interconnecting detail that seems so complicated begins to trace a very simple pattern.
It's the face of a young child. No matter how knotty the social problem, there was a time in its development when it was embodied in one child whose psyche was programmed for learning, whose body was driven by the biological compulsion to grow and develop, and whose emotions were free of deep, secret scarring.
Before the blows began, the classes failed, the drugs ingested, the weapons stashed, the fights started, the crimes committed and the system damn near bankrupted from trying to fix it all--or protect us from the consequences--there was just that one young child.
Taking it one child at a time, I'm led back to simple thoughts. Start at the beginning. Break cycles. Keep the long term in mind. Stop problems before they start. Write on the cleanest slate you can find. Protect the most vulnerable.
Too simple? Somebody said, "There's a simple answer for everything. Unfortunately, it's always wrong."
And, in fact, the issues that face us today as a community, country and culture do not lend themselves to simplistic solutions. There will be nothing simple or easy about what it takes to turn us, collectively, from our love of violence, the hopelessness of generations bred in economic deprivation, and a cultural narcissism so profound it ignores not only the problems round the world but the ones right under our nose.
But it helps to have some basics in place. When we emphasize those basics, it leads us back full circle to the image of that young child's trusting face.
As we sort through the tough issues, it helps to keep that face in mind. It may be that we won't really get anywhere on them if we don't--individually, collectively, globally.
They are our true plumb line into a better future.