The news recently ran a story revealing that “The so-called ‘parental responsibility act’ gives the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services statutory authority to cut off Family Independence Program assistance if a child is chronically truant and interventions fail.”
This bill is short-sighted and does not take into account the tremendous exposure to risks a family will encounter. At a time when everyone should be on board with addressing the issues of child homelessness, this bill further undermines that process. To punish a family by removing its sole means of income further entrenches it in their circumstances and puts them at tremendous risks for losing everything. The food provision has little value when a home which is family’s means of food preparation is gone.
The bill called the parental responsibility act gives the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services the authority to cut off a family’s assistance when a child under sixteen is truant. Although this will frighten some families to make a greater effort to ensure a child gets to the classroom, invariably a child will skip school. Placing the burden of this solely on parents is unconscionable especially in a world where too many parents lack the resources to keep up with the demands of school attendance.
This includes the lure of the streets which is often attractive to a child who might be tempted to find illegal sources to help ease the financial burden of a family. It is not uncommon for a pre-teen youngster to be drawn into activities which make school less attractive. Unfortunately not all schools are a leveling ground for all students.
Another problem that is all too common is a family’s inability to keep up with the image expected in most schools. Even the process of doing laundry can cause a child to be absent from the classroom. A frequent problem for children attending school in Detroit was that a family was unable to do laundry for a few days and kept the child at home. Under this bill while a family battles with a school over the myriad causes of a child’s delinquency now it must face the possibility of eviction and living without shelter.
Although school uniforms have helped to diminish this problem,many children still enter the classroom unkempt due to such issues at home such as no water or heat.and are quickly singled out and targeted for harassment. School’s are a demanding atmosphere requiring a strict adherence to social norms, including dress and name branding. The media plays a role in creating unrealistic images for children which play themselves out in the classroom. A school can be a place of torment for a child who does not fit into the peer structure.
So while this bill serves to get a child in the classroom, it does little to ensure a quality education once she is there. Rather than penalize families, the government should address issues surrounding the tremendous disparities within the public school systems. Even within a single school district one child will enter an inviting classroom with a balanced curriculum while another child is forced to attend a school with leaking ceilings, gang presence, even rodents. Children would be better served if the government threw its weight behind such issues as stronger anti-bullying laws, consistent disciplinary plans, and administrator - teacher training around the issues which promote awareness of the unique differences in a child’s learning styles and even more importantly, a child’s economic challenges.
At the core of this bill are the funds that a school system will miss out on when a child is truant. The per pupil count is crucial for a district’s survival. If the government genuinely wanted to ensure the education of a child, it seems that it would focus on parents right to provide alternative education. A family’s economic circumstances by no means lessens the its desire to provide a child with an alternative education. While some families can gracefully make the transition from public education to homeschooling, this choice is virtually unavailable to a family where costs make it virtually impossible unable to negotiate this process.
A professor of mine once described public schools being for the most part as being a “left brain, analytical” one size fits all experience. To punish an entire family whose child cannot fit neatly into this pattern is defeatist and portends serious difficulties for an entire family’s future.
While there is a growing need to provide housing to women and children who have lost homes, this bill represents a complete lack of comprehension of the problems already facing an overburdened homeless community. This bill is classist and its attempt to cure one problem comes at the expense of adding another gaping hole to the already sinking homeless community.