Last year Republican Bobby Franklin suggested dismantling the Department of Family and Children Services to save money. He said if this were done, churches and charitable organizations "would be knocking themselves over to pick up the slack."
At present there are 15,800 children in the state of Georgia's foster care system with only 4,012 foster parents. It seems there is already plenty of slack not being picked up. If the slack is not currently picked up, why should we believe it would be with DFCS gone? What needs to be done to have people take action on this matter?
Social psychologists have found that people need to have four criterion met before they assist when observing an emergency. First, they must notice the incident. Then, interpret it as an emergency, assume responsibility and assume they can make a difference. If any one of those criterion is not met, a bystander will not act.
Social psychologists also identified a phenomenon called Diffusion of Responsibility. In short, it means that the more people there are in a group, the less likely any one individual will act. Psychologists believe this is because no individual will assume responsibility since so many other people are present, or they don't think they can make a difference.
I don't wish to be critical of churches or charitable organizations. They, like the government and the population at large, are simply large groups of people prone to the laws of behavior. With what we know about social psychology if we are waiting on a group to act, whether it is the church or the government, we'll be waiting forever. For action to occur an individual must assume responsibility. I'd also recommend ignoring politicians who suggest things are always someone else's responsibility without actually verifying that someone else is doing anything about the problem.
Studies by economist Steven Levitt and psychologists in the United States and Romania have found correlations indicating that children raised in families that didn't want them, despite economic class, were more likely than other children to engage in criminal behavior. It follows that children who might suffer from a love deficit would not relate to the world well. What can we do about it?
We can prevent the birth of unwanted children. Abortion comes to many peoples' minds, but there are better methods. We could ensure that everyone is educated about how his or her reproductive system works. We could make birth control more accessible. The last two options could work as evidenced by the 30-year decline in abortion rates. Researchers attribute the decline to cultural acceptance of single parenting, reproductive education and access to birth control. Yet, this can't be the only solution.
We could also, and I do hope, create a culture of adoption. As a society we have a severe deficit in this area. Each year in this nation roughly 20,000 infants are voluntarily given up for outside of family adoptions, while approximately 100,000 families have submitted applications to adopt an infant. This means all the infants find homes. 1.2 million abortions take place each year, significantly more than prospective adoptive parents.
As seen from the numbers, it appears people either abort unwanted babies or keep them for better or worse. Most people that do keep their originally unwanted children find they are glad they did and love them immensely.
However, many children find themselves neglected or abused. Often times at this point DFCS will remove them from the home, yet sadly, most Americans are only interested in infants so most of the over 120,000 children over the age of 6 waiting to be adopted never will be.
So what about these kids that spend their formative years neglected or abused? As a society we hate the phrase unwanted child. There are no unwanted children, right, only unplanned children? Tell that to the sibling pair that was split up because a family was willing to adopt the 3-year-old but not the 8-year-old.
Because of the shortage of foster homes many siblings are separated. Lacking a stable home environment and being moved from home to home is emotionally very difficult on these children. Many develop problems that cost society in other ways. Underfunding DFCS costs society in the long run.
As I mentioned before, we need a culture of adoption. Adopting older children and becoming foster parents is one way you can make a difference.
If you're planning to adopt why not pick an older child? Also, in a pro-choice leaning state of over 9 million people, surely we can do better than 4012 foster parents. Please don't wait for the government or your church to act.
If every church made it its responsibility to support either a foster or adoptive family we wouldn't have a shortage of homes for these kids.
Before that will happen we need individuals willing to take personal responsibility. I've let you know there is an emergency. I hope you now assume responsibility, identify what you can do and choose to act.
Brandon Givens is a Gainesville resident and a special-education teacher. His columns appear regularly and on gainesvilletimes.com.