Explorations in a Proposed National Policy for Children and Families

Article excerpt

Significant social, economic, and demographic changes have occurred in families over the last three decades. These changes have had a pronounced impact on children; many now live with only one parent, typically mothers, and often lack consistent involvement and support from fathers. More mothers and fathers hold jobs, yet children are the poorest group in America. Moreover, many routines of family life have changed, regardless of family income, resulting in children and parents spending less time together (National Commission on Children, 1991).

The following is a summary of the significant changes that have occurred in American families, changes which have resulted in new pressures on children and their families:

In 1960 children accounted for 36% of all Americans; in 1990 they were 26%, and by 2010 only 23% of the population will be children (U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, No. 1018, 1989).

Over the past 20 years, a rapidly rising divorce rate and an increase in out-of-wedlock childbearing, particularly among teenagers, has dramatically increased the number of children living with one parent (U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, No. 168, 1989).

One of the most dramatic changes has been the increasing numbers of mothers entering the workforce. Between 1970 and 1990, the proportion of mothers with children under age six who were working or looking for work rose from 32 to 58%. In 1990, over 74% of women with children between the ages of 6 to 13 were working or looking for work (Cherlin, 1988).

Children today are the poorest Americans; one in five lives in a family below the poverty level (U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, No. 169, 1989).

Thirty-two million Americans, including 8.3 million children under age 18, have no form of health insurance coverage (National Commission on Children, 1991).

One in four adolescents have some form of serious, long-term problems (Carnegie Council on Adolescent development, 1989). For example, approximately 1 million teenage girls become pregnant each year, and half of them give birth (Carnegie Council on Adolescent development, 1989).

Approximately 500,000 young people drop out of school each year (Kaufman & Frase, 1990).

Since 1981, there has been an 80% rise in the proportion of children receiving psychological assistance annually (Zill & Schoenborn, 1990).

Problems facing children and families are further complicated by the fact that the United States does not have a coherent national policy; research reports that current family programs are uncoordinated and often ineffective (Pardeck, 1990). The United States is the only developed country which does not have coordinated programs specifically aimed at children and their families (Pardeck, 1990). Most of them include such programs as Aid to Families with Dependent Children, Social Security benefits, tax exemptions, and veteran's benefits. These programs are largely reactive in nature; more importantly, they are not available to all children and families.

The major emphasis of programs affecting children and families are often designed for individual family members, not the entire family system. Further, these programs place great emphasis on economic supports and not social services (Kain-Caudle, 1973). Economic supports are in the form of social insurance and public assistance. Social service programs are divided between public and private agencies (Pardeck, 1990). Research suggests that public agencies provide the greatest amount of economic assistance while private agencies place greater emphasis on social services often administered by highly trained professional staffs (Karger & Stoesz, 1994). This leaves many needy low income children and their families without access to them.

A model national policy for children and their families must accommodate the pluralistic nature of American society. …