October 26, 2005

Putting Children Last

This headline caught my attention in my lunch time perusal of the Washington Post: "Planned GOP Budget Cuts Target Programs Such as Foster Care."

The House Ways and Means Committee today will begin drafting legislation that would save about $8 billion over five years, eight times the $1 billion target the panel was given in the spring. To do it, Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) would cut back federal aid to state child-support enforcement programs, limit federal payments to some foster care families, and cut welfare payments to the disabled.

… Foster-care cuts of nearly $600 million would cease payments to children taken from the home of impoverished grandparents or other relatives who are not their parents, according to the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

It is so frustrating to me in general when folks with a supposed pro-life stance support and actively promote policies that are not only draconian, they are anti-life. They are anti-life by greatly decreasing the quality of life of the poor and vulnerable. And they are anti-life by making the situation so dire that a poor pregnant woman might look at the future on the table for their unborn and decide they'd be better off if they didn't come into this crazy messed up world.

But cutting foster care? And cutting payments to extended families who are stretching themselves to care for distant family members? As my 8 year old niece in Alabama would say, "That's just crazy talk."

In 1991 the US Bishops released a statement called "Putting Children First." Their statement reminds us applying Catholic Social Teaching to the real world requires a priority focus on children. Some excerpts:

In the Bible, children are both a blessing from God and a test of the community’s values. Orphans were especially vulnerable and became objects of God’s special care. God's covenant upheld the rights of abandoned children (Ps 68:5; Jer 49:11), provided for their support (Dt 24:19-22), and demanded their protection (Ex 22:22-24).

In the New Testament we read how Jesus came into the world as a vulnerable and homeless child. Jesus welcomed and blessed children (Mt 19:12-15) and called his disciples to act as children in receiving the word of God. Jesus tells his disciples: "Whoever receives one child . . . in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me" (Mk 9:36-37)

The biblical call to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves and to make Christian love real and active has taken explicit shape over the last century in the traditional social teaching of our Church. The principles of this tradition shape and guide our response to the moral challenge of our children, including the life and dignity of the human person, human rights and responsibilities, the call to family and community, the dignity of work, the option for the poor and vulnerable, and solidarity. These principles take on increasing urgency and relevance as they are so clearly violated in the lives of so many children.

It is obvious that children are not being put first in our public policy decisions. Or second. Or even third. They are not a priority, and there is something definitely wrong with that. How we treat children in our society is where the rubber hits the road. It is what we will be measured by. And we are falling very very short.