In the past few months, we’ve witnessed the frightening results of a single person’s impact, in which children and adults have died. While we are a country that has amazing technology and tremendous sophisticated knowledge, we are struggling significantly to help children who have special needs. Sadly, the numbers of students in need as well as the effect of this ripple continues to widen. Is there a solution?
How do we answer the question of prevention ?
The number of students struggling to read, function in a classroom or deal with various serious mental health issues overwhelms our schools. I know this because Lakeside serves over 25 school districts in our resident state as well as assists with thousands of situations where resources required to help struggling students are not available.
As in many parts of our country, funding cuts have deeply impacted schools, human service systems, mental health systems and health care.
Options dwindle. Thus, we wait until the needs mount, until they become too serious to ignore, and then we attempt to intervene (at greater expense) and bring the help that our students vitally need.
Check your pocketbook: The costs of neglecting children’s needs run hundreds of billions.
I find it very interesting that there is a direct correlation of reading levels among students in 4th grade and their potential to be incarcerated.
- In fact, reading levels among 4th graders are used in many states to determine how large to build prisons for the next generation. The costs of running prisons staggers the mind. Americans pay over $15 billion in taxes each year to feed and care for the needs of our inmates.
Likewise, in the field of mental illness, research tells us that early detection and treatment of symptoms of mental disorders can prevent serious mental illness.
- Estimates tell us that mental illness costs us $193 billion in lost wages by those who are diagnosed. The actual costs of treatment buried in our healthcare systems are equally astounding.
Additionally, residual costs are associated with student’s critical problems.
- For instance, the total cost to our society in increased health care, crime and lost productivity just due to the use of illegal drugs passes $181 billion. An additional $185 billion accrues as a result of alcohol addiction.
I don’t need to shout for you to get the picture.
We are spending billions of dollars in treatment, housing, lost wages and related expenditures; yet, we are unable to find the resources for early diagnosis, intervention and treatment of thousands of children and teenagers who are vitally in need of services. Neglect and disregard of dealing with our struggling children’s problems has already created societal chaos, turmoil and devastation to thousands of our children, teenagers and their families.
I recognize that changing this paradigm might take an entire generation’s commitment and effort. However, we must realize that prevention is truly the least expensive way to deal with the costly problems that I have delineated.
Some may question whether it can be done. I am quite convinced that it can. (Talk to me about examples of life-transformations.)
How could change begin?
- We would have to rethink how we approach paradigm issues and be willing to focus on unique and creative strategies for prevention and early intervention.
- We must create processes to identify needs as well as plans for treatment and adapt them uniquely to children in every community.
- We would have to look holistically at the lives of our children with an eye toward a variety of options for those with special needs.
- Every child should have a relationship with someone who can provide the help he or she needs.
I think it should be recognized that we already are investing a lot of time, energy and financial resources towards our children. Some of the funding is utilized effectively, and some could be redistributed to existing needs with far better results.
One reason I know this is possible is because I have been privileged to watch many students return to normal productive and successful lives with only a year’s worth of intervention within Lakeside’s programs. I believe that any children we help to transition, we eliminate a huge economical, emotional and relational impact to their lives, the lives of their families and their community.
I will continue to write about some of the ideas that we believe helpful to change the course of our history in caring for our children and teenagers.
Prevention will save billions! We desperately need to make the transition, starting now. Our goal is to save lives while making our whole society a better and safer place for our children and families.
Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network