For several years now, I have written this same column — and I’m going to keep writing it until we as a state stop abusing our children.
Because we do, in fact, abuse our children. And we have been doing it for a long time.
Every year for the last 25 years, the Casey Foundation has issued its Kids Count Report, which assesses child well-being nationally and across the 50 states. Using an index of 16 indicators, the reports ranks states on overall child well-being in four domains: (1) economic well-being, (2) education, (3) health, and (4) family and community.
Underneath these 16 basic indicators, they have mountains of data on everything — race, gender, age, section of country, income and so on. And in keeping with a modern, tech-savvy operation, it’s all there in a useful, searchable database — and anyone can crunch the numbers to his or her heart’s content. Check it out, you’ll learn something.
But all this data boils down to one single ranking for our state — today, we’re 45th. When the first report was done 25 years ago, we were 45th.
OK, you might say, here it comes, another tirade blaming our state’s politicians, right? Well, sort of.
The problem of fixing things for our children is not simple and easy; it’s culture, politics, public policy, race, religion, law and God knows what else. But there are things that can be done — specific, concrete legal and policy changes that can be made that will produce positive results.
And we also know that there is one thing that politicians can do — it’s 100 percent in their control — and that’s to pass state laws. That’s what they are there for. They can pass good laws or bad laws or no laws at all.
Ironically, in the same week that Kids Count came out with its comprehensive assessment, there was another study released looking at one special area of our state’s family policy: laws about pregnancy and family-leave policies. And how did we do? Need I say, we got an “F”?
This study was by the National Partnership for Women & Families — “a comprehensive review of federal and state laws that help expecting and new parents take leave during pregnancy and when a child arrives.” They found that in 181 countries worldwide, there are at least some guarantees of paid leave to women for childbirth, and 81 have some type of similar provision for fathers.
In earning our grade of F (like 16 other states), they found that beyond the minimal federal requirements, South Carolina workers have no rights or protections for new and expectant parents who work in the private sector, nor are there additional parental or pregnancy disability leave rights or protections. The one positive aspect for our state law is that state workers who earn sick time are entitled to use up to 10 days to care for an ill spouse or child — that’s about it, and that’s not much.
Our state’s lawmakers need to understand something basic — Ozzie and Harriet are dead. This is not the South Carolina of the 1950s with stay-at-home moms fixing dinner for hubby and the kids. Today in the US, 71 percent of children live in families where all parents work.
And it goes beyond softer “quality of life” issues to the hard economics of dollars and cents. People want to live and work in a state that has reasonable, progressive and flexible laws that protect and support them and their families as they grapple with the ever-changing demands of the 21st-century workplace. That’s not South Carolina.
As the report outlines, there are literally dozens of no-cost and low-cost legal and policy changes that can be made to make our state more kid and family friendly — and ultimately help reduce our levels of child abuse. For a start, let’s begin with a guaranteed return-to-work policy for new moms and flexible sick-leave policies that reflect a greater child-care role for men, to name just two.
It’s tempting to throw up our hands and say, “There’s nothing I can do, let’s not talk about this. You know, football season is just around the corner.”
But that is not true. There is something that we can do: We can care.
Since the beginning of time, cultures have excelled at what they cared most about. Ancient Athens valued leaning and knowledge — the standard they set has never been exceeded. Sparta valued military might and glory that are synonymous today with their name.
South Carolina has two nationally ranked college football teams. We are national leaders in making cars, tires and manufacturing other “stuff.” We pay our football coaches and CEOs millions.
This is all well and good. But our children are still being abused.
It doesn’t have to be this way. We CAN do better. It’s an election year.
I really don’t want to have to write this same column again this time next year.
Phil Noble is a businessman in Charleston and President of the S.C. New Democrats, an independent reform group started by former Gov. Richard Riley. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.