Thursday, March 01, 2007

 

The Cost of Caring

As I mentioned a few days ago, Alex and I attended a day long workshop this week on grant writing. We gathered with others working in the nonprofit world to learn about meeting the constant need for funding. One of the other participants in the class, Michelle Cochran, is the Executive Director of an organization called Nashville SEES. Her organization works to increase the pay and training of child care workers, who currenty make somewhere around an average of $16,000 per year. She and I discussed the fact that the ages of 0-5 years are the most formative for a child's development. However, in our country where people are constantly talking about how to care for children, we don't put our money where our mouth is when it comes to early childhood--arguably the most important time in a child's life.

The whole conversation got me thinking about how backward we often do things. We are spending millions of dollars over and above the cost of imprisoning people for life in order to maintain the death penalty. Many of the people that we are paying all this money to execute come from backgrounds of abuse, neglect, and mental illness--often experienced during early childhood. Bills are being introduced all over the country to expand the death penalty to include repeat child sex offenders, which of course, will cost extraordinarily more money and only add to the burden of an already broken system.

What would our society look like if we ended the death penalty and used the millions of dollars saved for early childhood education, better training and salaries for early childhood teachers, parenting support groups, and prenatal care? It seems we often wait too long to intervene in the lives of children. The earlier we begin to enhance their development, the better off we all are.

I applaud Michelle and others who are working to ensure that children don't end up victimized, mistreated, and for some, caught up in the criminal justice system. How many on Tennessee's death row would not be there had they had such structured, nurturing early childhood care? Why do we continue to pour money into a system that spends so much of our state's resources only after someone has already committed a heinous crime instead of using those same resources much earlier in his/her life, perhaps creating a different outcome for everyone? Research shows that the death penalty has no deterrent effect. I believe that the best deterrent for ending violent crime may be offering young children, in the beginning of their lives, another way to experience the world around them--a way that is consistent, nurturing, and encouraging. Someday, perhaps, we will learn.
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