Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: bureaucracy

Prejudice + Poverty ≠ Hopelessness

Some years ago I read an article in Ebony magazine written by a man who had grown up in one of the worst black tenement ghettos in Chicago.Drug dealing, crime and violence were the everyday reality and the police felt the area was too dangerous to send in individual officers to patrol.

Like almost all the other children in this ghetto, this man and his two siblings grew up in a single parent home without much money. Their mother wanted her children to escape the ghetto and the first step was not to give in to hopelessness. She introduced them to the library and to museums and did everything that she could think of that was educational and free. When they went to the store to buy something she let the children pay and then count the change to see that it was right.

All three of those children finished school, went on to university and established professional careers. And they moved their mother out of the ghetto.

The man who wrote the article was now a lawyer. He wrote about going back to visit his old neighbourhood and trying to look up the boys he had grown up with. Some were dead, others were in jail, all the rest had criminal records. None had escaped the hopelessness of the ghetto.

There are a multitude of government programs to help children escape the effects of prejudice and poverty. Billions of dollars are being spent. What are the results? A lot of well paid government jobs to administer the programs. Besides that – not much.

One mother with hope and determination made a difference. No government program can create a mother like that.

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The Welfare Trap

Welfare systems began with the noble intent of helping those unable to help themselves. Well, actually those noble intentions were somewhat tainted from the beginning. Christians had long felt a need to help those most in need. Governments, motivated by the social gospel, decided people needed something better than to rely on charity.  Thus a bureaucracy was built step by step, and the bureaucracy needs clients to justify its existence. Therefore, it has become increasingly difficult for welfare clients to escape the system.

Whatever the faults of Christian charity, it did not encroach on people’s dignity nearly as much as organized welfare systems. These systems are structured so that there are penalties for every effort a person makes to become self supporting. Income from a part time job is deducted from welfare payments. Find full time employment and you lose your rent subsidy and many other benefits. Enrol in a government sponsored training program and you likewise lose all your benefits. Whether such disincentives are deliberate or not, the fact is that the system is rigged to keep people on welfare. After a while many people give up hope of finding a way out.

Then there are the child welfare services. One lady went from foster home to foster home during her growing up years and was left feeling that she must have been a difficult child. In her adult years she approached the welfare agency and was given a report of the times she had been moved. In every case there there had been some misconduct by the foster parents — she had never been the problem.

Here in Saskatchewan, many First Nations reserves have their own child welfare agencies. They try to provide some continuity in the life of a child that is at risk in the home of his parents by placing him with relatives. That seems like a sensible solution. The problem is that many families live off reserve and when problems arise they fall under the jurisdiction of the provincial social services agency. Children are placed in foster homes that may not have any understanding of their cultural background. At the first sign of trouble the child is moved to a new home. And on and on. What they most need is stability and only a few find it.

Some foster parents are able to manoeuvre through the bureaucratic jungle of social services and provide a secure and stable home for children in their care. They do a wonderful job, But they are not produced by the system The good that they do is the result of their personal convictions and principles.

The idea that governments can create a better world, where everyone is valued, everyone’s needs are met and everyone’s dignity is respected, has not worked out in practice. This is the social gospel, and it is a false gospel. Yet people are still looking to governments to fix what they have broken.

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