On the refrigerator at my house is the above magnet, one of those modern reproductions whose 1950s-esque design is your first clue a bit of snark-wrapped truth awaits. Its reminder about the lifetime of challenges that await once you bring a child into the world is one this mere 6-year veteran of parenthood must smile at, if only to keep from weeping.
That magnet was the first thing that popped into my head last week after I heard about Gov. Nathan Deal’s remarks about the responsibility of families to take care of their own children rather than leaving them to the Department of Family and Children Services. Too often that arrangement has failed kids, with tragic results.
“It really galls me, quite frankly,” Deal said, “to see an able-bodied grandparent complaining about the facts that DFACS didn’t do something to protect her grandchildren. And my question is, well, where were you?”
He continued: “Why is it that we always arrest the mother? And nobody ever asks the question: Where’s the father of this child? Why didn’t (he) step in and do something? The vast majority of the time, the answer is, well, we don’t know.
“Well, it’s about time somebody started asking the question. … We’re going to ask that question. We’re going to find out why it is that government becomes the only answer to things that, historically, had been the responsibility of the greater family unit.”
After thinking of the magnet, my next thought was: Who could argue?
I should have known better.
Sen. Horacena Tate, D-Atlanta, chided Deal for blaming grandparents and “supposedly” absent fathers. “We have to figure out how to make sure that the government’s end of the deal is done right,” she told the AJC’s Greg Bluestein. “And his comments were just saying that it’s not the government’s fault.”
The governor can speak for himself, but his actions don’t excuse poor work at DFACS. Since last year, Deal has budgeted more than $15 million to hire 278 new child protective services caseworkers. That’s not the kind of thing done by a man unconcerned with fixing what’s broken in government.
That said, you’d think all Georgians would agree that family solutions should be the first option in these situations. That it’s not only Republicans or conservatives who believe that in these situations those relatives who can step in, should.
The new caseworkers ought to help matters, but the state cannot hire enough people to replace the eyes, ears, hands and feet of grandparents, aunts, uncles and other adult kin of children in trouble. We shouldn’t ask it to try.
The answers to Deal’s questions will probably cause some discomfort, as well as further questions on which there’s less agreement. The dysfunction and finger-pointing tendencies we see in these families were decades in the making, time enough for blame to accrue in a variety of accounts.
The goal, though — putting the onus first on families, and having more and more of them capable of bearing it — belongs in everyone’s kitchen.
— By Kyle Wingfield, opinion columnist