After a 4-year-old Richland County boy died from blunt force trauma last summer, a Senate panel decided to investigate the agency tasked with protecting the state’s most vulnerable citizens.
Reports say the Department of Social Services was notified multiple times of alleged abuse—the boy had previously been placed in foster care before returning home. Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Columbia, is among the lawmakers who have been outspoken in calling for the agency’s director, Lillian Koller to step down. He serves on the panel looking into DSS. Koller is slated to testify before lawmakers in mid-April.
When it comes to the problems of society’s most vulnerable, we can’t address the problem of child abuse without talking about poverty.
Of course, experts acknowledge a variety of so-called risk factors contribute to child abuse—it doesn’t just happen to poor children. And abuse isn’t a given for children living in poverty. But poverty is a common matter-of-life-or-death denominator for so many reported child abuse victims.
According to research by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, children in low-socioeconomic status households are more than three times as likely to be abused and approximately seven times as likely to be neglected as other children. Low-socioeconomic status indicators are household incomes below $15,000 per year, parents who aren’t high school graduates, and household participation in poverty programs like public housing and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program—known as food stamps. Children with unemployed parents suffer twice the rate of abuse as their peers.
In general, there seems to be a strong correlation between poverty and child abuse. And how do we address poverty?
I think the question itself is a little one-dimensional. Poverty is a labyrinth, and abused children are getting lost in it. Policy experts say a lack of affordable housing and low wages are among the factors keeping people poor. But despite housing vouchers and calls to raise the minimum wage for low-wage earners’ jobs, which aren’t necessarily meant for long-term employment in adult populations by the way, generation after generation isn’t finding its way out of the maze. Those are just two examples of problems people living in poverty face.
Poverty is tragic. But government intervention hasn’t helped lost people find their way. And children are still harmed and in some cases, dying.
Perhaps free markets are a little wiser at solving mazes than governments. As for the market nay-sayers, I don’t believe the market has been allowed to operate unfettered in generations.
But when you make the let-the-market-work argument, you run the risk of seeming heartless and detached.
I’m not detached. I want to see fewer children suffering under abuse and fewer people living in poor conditions or on the street. While ending poverty may not be realistic, reducing it drastically is possible—if we let the market work.
Getting to that point isn’t without challenges—large segments of the population don’t know how to live without government aid. Some of those same children facing abuse don’t get much to eat outside of free and reduced school lunches.
But even in mythology, people couldn’t escape the maze without facing the beast.
I have this wild idea—what if we stopped subsidizing poverty? As the old conservative adage goes, every time you subsidize something, you get more of it. What if the people funding benefits could use their tax dollars to add more jobs to the economy—both for skilled and unskilled workers?
What if people couldn’t rely on the government to help them barely get by? What if they had to get out of the maze if they wanted to survive? What if.
Already charities exist to help people who want to improve their living conditions—we need more of those. Most of them require a degree of accountability for those participating.
We can never eradicate poverty and child abuse. And government intervention isn’t able to alleviate the causes of poverty and abuse. At best it can pull children out of a hopeless situation after they’ve already been abused.
But we can create an environment in which the marketplace frees up government resources for businesses to create work for people who need it, and for people who want to contribute to charities that enable people to climb out of poverty. Maybe then we can help abused children find their way out of a maze they would otherwise be destined for the rest of their lives.