Friday, February 28, 2014

Whose Responsibility is it?

Children's day in NZ is tomorrow.   

It's got me wondering.  What do children need, and whose responsible for what they need?  

Sounds simple doesn't it. 

On the face of it, the majority of people will say parents are responsible for everything.  


I started reflecting on the 'perhaps', and some of the variables around why it is not as clear cut as we would be led to believe, and that has left me wondering.  

To define what children need is an infinite list that we could continually add to, depending on our contexts, our philosophies and our understanding of the world.  It is inexhaustible.  For the purposes of this post I will focus on just a few of what I consider the 'basics'.  

The Intangibles: 

Firstly, love, support, boundaries and someone to care and protect them.  

Whose responsibility?  The Family.

The Home Basics: 

Healthy food, sleep, decent housing and clean clothing that fits. 

Whose responsibility?  The Family.  

The Wider Basics:

Access to health care and a good education. 

Whose responsibility?  The Family and the State.  

As stated earlier, seems simple right?  
Ahh, not so fast dear reader.  
Here are my wonderings. 

The Intangibles:

What if kids don't get this?  What if something happens, and a child does not  recieve love, protection, care, or boundaries?  What are the consequences for society? What happens to that innocent and precious baby if it does not recieve this essential nurturing?  Who do they ultimately become and what negative impact could that have on the rest of us?  (I will give you a few hints - crime and lack of empathy for others, as a starter - where the cost to society both financially and from a humanitarian perspective is huge).  

So now the really big wondering.  Whose responsibility is it NOW?  When the family is unable (for whatever reason - lack of skill, understanding, mental illness, drugs and alcohol, poverty, trauma) to provide these intangible things?   

You may notice I added poverty.  People underestimate the impact on someone's psyche that poverty has.  Constantly struggling to make ends meet is soul destroying.  It eats away at your dignity, you sense of being and it's ramifications are far reaching.  I added those reasons not as excuses but as risk factors. 

Do we just let it 'drop' or does the State take responsibility?  Which costs more I wonder, State intervention or doing nothing?

The Home Basics:

I noted healthy food first.  The rising tide of obesity here and around the world is becoming unsustainable.  The costs to our collective heath systems is staggering.  It is unsustainable.  More importantly, the risks to the children and their personal heath and ability to live a long successful life is huge.  Once you scratch the surface of just this one home basic, it's no longer as simple as saying the Family is responsible.   

The cost of good quality, healthy food far outweighs the cost of suger coated, fat laden, chemically enhanced fast food options that are convienient and easily available.  Rubbish food is big business.  That, however, is a different debate.  

It's easy to say parents are responsible for feeding their children good food, but if you are unable to buy quality food, and you are not sure how to eat well on a low income, junk food is all you have. 

Then there is the question of neglect?  More and more cases are surfacing of the State intervening with highly obese children.  Unkempt, dirty children who live in substandard housing - whose responsible for them when Family neglects these things?  (Again, for similar reasons above - here, food and housing is particularly affected by poverty)

So I wonder, on just a fiscal level, whose responsible?  (I will leave the moral and judgemental level to others)  

Is it fiscally wise for the state (given the unsustainable health costs alone) to intervene with mandates on healthy food (like a sugar tax, as some countries do), or to ensure housing stock is affordable, healthy and is safe (like a building warrent of fitness).   Does the State need to take responsibility for ensuring there is enough quality state housing for at risk families?  

What responsibility does the State play in ensuring the economy is strong, jobs are plentiful and safeguards for business and workers are equitable and balanced?  Where does cost of living, inflation, tax, and all those outside the Family forces, come into play, and ultimately, whose responsibility is that?

So, I wonder.  What's cheaper, State taking responsibility for when families can't or just letting it alone, to fester and compound. 

Once again, poverty seems an underlying theme here.

The Wider Basics:

Health care and education.  Both are critical for the success of a child and ultimately the success of a Nation.  Healthy, well educated citizens build successful societies.  This is a no brainer.    

Above I made reference to both Family and State responsibility.  Let me clarify.   The Family is responsible for ensuring they get their children to school, or to a doctor. They are responsible for supporting their children and getting them what they need when they need it.  

The State is responsible for providing an affordable (I would say free but that's hardly true) good quality basic health and education system for its citizens.  That's what our tax dollars are for.  Let's not get into the argument of public vs private.  If you want gold plated then feel free to pay for it, and feel free to write your own posts extolling the 'virtues' of public vs private.  

For the sake of argument, let's say we agree with that.  Now here's where the sticky wonderings begin, and that pesky poverty risk factor pops back in.  

What if Families can't afford to visit the Doctor, pay for medicine and get their kids treatment?  There is plenty of research around and various concerning reports and studies here and offshore about poverty leading to 3rd world diseases having a devastating effect children.  Rheumatic fever for one.  

Whose responsible now?  

What if the education system is not equitable and resources are badly allocated?  What if parents don't send their kids, don't access (for all the reasons above, including needing the older kids to stay home to look after siblings, or to leave school to get money) opportunities for education?   Who picks up the responsibility then?

Wait for it - here's that overriding wondering again.  What costs more?  The State taking responsibility when Families can't or won't, or just letting it be. 

Finally, if all this post does is make you wonder, question, consider the alternatives or look at a situation from multiple angles, then that's a good thing. Nothing is ever as clear cut as we would like it to be.  

What stands out for me is that poverty is an overriding factor in the above.  Sometime people find themselves in that situation out of sheer misfortune, and by the same stroke of misfortune - any one of us could be in their shoes.   Imagine a major disaster, economic crisis, illness, or other such catastrophe. 

If that was the case, my final wondering is - when it is out of your hands or capabilities - whose responsibility is it then?  What costs more in the long term?  Helping you back up, or leaving you down in the gutter

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