Editor’s note: This commentary is by Bob Orleck, who is a retired pharmacist and lawyer. He served as an assistant attorney general under Vermont Attorney General Jerome Diamond.
After reading the article, “Vermont Schools Grapple with the Residual Impact of Opiate Abuse,” in VTDigger, one comes away with a very bleak picture of Vermont students’ emotional health. The experts quoted seem to know what the causes are and solutions that are needed but careful reading should bring their thinking into question. The causes they cite are really symptoms coming from a cause they only give lip service to addressing. These causes they identify, for them, drive a defined need for more special education and mental health treatment even to younger children and also an increased role for government to provide the fixes.
The article even questions cause and effect and the credibility of it all is suspect further when the first expert, a paralegal, discusses the problems of society and opines that we don’t have sufficient mental health supports in preschool and early elementary schools and that special education is tied to both poverty and opiate addiction. Shouldn’t we be looking to the opinions of medical experts on such matters over someone working in a law office? Could it be we are listening to the wrong people?
The article points to younger and younger children experiencing problems and having to deal “with extreme circumstances and struggling to thrive” and the situation keeps worsening to a greater degree even over the last five year. The number of children ending up in state custody is doubling in two years of time. The system has failed us as much as any failed government program and has increasingly done so over the past 25 years. How they can call all this failure as “good work” and hope to build on that is a puzzle when they see this need for increased mental health services as required to even “keep our education program going.”
Jo-Anne Unruh, executive director of the Vermont Council of Special Education Administrators, is the prime source for the direction this article goes but there seems to be a lack of coherence in what she is saying. Her final conclusion is the one that makes the most sense.: “… serving the children with the right level of support is the answer.” The question becomes what is the “right level of support” and what “support” is the correct one.
Love is at the center of it all and the love of two committed parents to a child will result in a secure child who is able to face a difficult world knowing that his folks have his back and he need not become disturbed when times get difficult.
The identified causes as mentioned above are really symptoms of a failed cause. They define them as “poverty, substance abuse, physical violence, homelessness and neglect” as well as unemployment, underemployment and what they term as “adverse experiences” a child is exposed to. These are symptoms of something that has gone terribly wrong and that is the breakdown and loss of the family structure. Families are falling apart. People have lost their moral compass. Values have become twisted. Right is wrong and vise versa.
What can we expect from the messages that we keep sending to our children by media in TV, movies and the like. The emotional problems increase every year and yet our experts have put blinders on regarding the true reasons. We see weakness in our nation at almost every point and that is directly tied to the strength of our families. There is a cause and effect here!
Such weakness does show symptoms that are poverty, economic stresses and these influence the behavior of our children. How could they not? If you picture buildings with strong columns to hold up its ceilings and give them the beautiful shape they have, think about chipping away at those columns until they do not have the integrity to stand any longer. When they fall so will all those things they support. Our children have lost that support structure in their lives. How far do we have to descend before we see why it is happening here?
Core values are attacked at every point in today’s world and their being undermined has put the American family in a condition of high stress and vulnerability. Things are getting worse and so are the inappropriate messages our families and children are getting. Tie it all together. The breakneck speed in which the sexual revolution has proceeded, the epidemic rate of out-of-marriage births, abortion and the number of single parents out there who just cannot make it financially.
Vermont has such a high incidence of addiction problems. Our schools are not performing adequately academically. It is frightening the way children are abused and neglected in our beautiful Green Mountains. Children and youth are increasingly disrespectful of adults and others of their age. It is getting harder and harder in this government-dependent society we have built for parents to adequately provide and so we see increase in child poverty. The reason for the emotional problems we see with children lie at the feet of a deceived society that believes it can reject all the past tried and true traditions that accounted for strong families, and still the benefits will inure to future offspring.
So what is the answer? Stable homes with a mother and father are the answer and not more Band-Aid approaches by a paternalistic big government. Government has a legitimate role to play to develop laws and policy that support and cause families to thrive. Just as plants need fertilizer to grow tall and strong, so too do families need support that enables them to carry out the difficult job of raising a family, supporting that family and doing so in a safe and secure society.
There is no question that if the areas where emotional disturbances were studied carefully in this regard you would find a relationship to married intact family unit or the lack thereof. Investigate further and in the majority of these strong family units you will find religious faith in some degree. Love is at the center of it all and the love of two committed parents to a child will result in a secure child who is able to face a difficult world knowing that his folks have his back and he need not become disturbed when times get difficult.
Government needs to understand its proper role and a good start would be for our leaders to adhere to the original intent of the framers of our founding documents and to look to higher authority for solutions to the problems that they themselves have created for our families and children over the past. Instead of fighting churches and faith-based initiatives, our leaders would be well advised to let them do their good works. Our leaders should allow the free exercise of religion and provide the necessary support for families as they do their jobs as father, mother and child. Emotional problems would be reduced dramatically and the costs for support services will as well. Spending money on problems by big government has never worked on anything and it will not work now. The problems only continue to get bigger and so do the arguments put forth by legislators that they spending must increase to fight those problems. The cycle will never end until our nation falls.
Right now we are at a breaking point and we better get honest with ourselves and the reasons we are having all these emotional as well as other coping issues. Time is running out.