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HomeNewsArchives'KIDS COUNT': OKAY, NOW WHAT?

'KIDS COUNT': OKAY, NOW WHAT?

The Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands' report "Kids Count" is a significant achievement and should be seen as a major opportunity for the Virgin Islands to take critical action.
It is important, however, that everyone understand that the opportunity is a fleeting one. Reports, regardless of their quality or importance, have a very short shelf life. Today's crisis is tomorrow's old news. If substantive action isn't taken within the next few months, the report will become just another indictment of the territory's citizens' inability to face up to and deal with their problems.
There also isn't a lot of room for error or false starts. Improving the lives of the territory's children will require an emotional and spiritual commitment, but it will also require thoughtful and well-planned approaches and a strategy that makes optimal use of scarce resources and does not ignore unpleasant realities. Here are some ideas.
Define Achievable Goals
Given the depths of the problems facing the territory's children, it is critical to identify a set of meaningful and achievable goals that address the priority needs of children.
Virgin Islanders have a tendency to either promote grand schemes that are beyond reach or to believe that nothing is possible. The end results are the same.
I would suggest the following goal: to minimize the most severe effects of poverty on the children and youth of the Virgin Islands. There should be both a short term and a long term strategy for achieving this goal. While a year or two is a brief period for an adult, it is an eternity in the life of a small child. There should be real action on critical items within the first year.
Forget About Blame
Solve the Real Problems. There is a wonderful quote from Descartes about problem definition. It is that "the most corrupting lies are problems misstated." Virgin Islanders are hardly alone in frequently misstating the problems that they face, but such misstatements, particularly in the form of defensive evasions, have become particularly acute in recent years. The problems to be solved involve the impediments to eliminating the impact of poverty on children and youth. Some key questions: What are these impediments? What happens to children and their parents and guardians because of these problems? Which of these problems or impediments is beyond our control? What is the best approach to solving the ones that we can control or influence?
There isn't sufficient time to waste on arguing over who is to blame for the current situation. Blaming invariably places a focus on the past, further divides people, and wastes energy. The only useful responses to key problems are: what are our choices, what are we going to do to fix the problem,and what do we want the future to look like?
It is About Money!
Twenty years ago, a supposedly conservative idea took root in the United States. It was that social problems, particularly the problems of the poor, could be solved by free market capitalism, volunteers,and religious organizations. Government spending was considered wasteful and evil. The CFVI report on children and poverty levels in the Virgin Islands is just one part of the testimony to the failure of this approach. A big part of any strategy for assisting the most disadvantaged children is going to be programs and services. They will cost money. Anyone who pretends that this is a matter of organizing volunteers to meet school buses is misstating the nature and the depth of the problems. In the recent past, it has been fashionable to attack "liberals" and their "failed programs." We have now had two decades of conservative social policy and the results are everywhere to be seen.
Virgin Islanders face a particular problem in funding the programs and services that must make up a part of a strategy for children, whether it is nutrition programs, after-school programs, recreational and cultural programs, or others. The government of the Virgin Islands is incapable of delivering services of this nature and has been for a long time. It is a jobs program. This means that the vehicles for improving the lives of children must be community based or not-for-profit organizations or businesses. The sources of money can be the federal government, charitable giving by individuals, or foundation grants. The "Kids Count" report can be a powerful tool in making the case for spending on Virgin Islands children, if it is linked to a coherent and realistic strategy. To be effective, that strategy must bypass the Virgin Islands government. But no one should be deceived into believing that progress can be made without an investment of resources which is to say, money.
High Standards
The former prime minister of Singapore was recently asked to explain the great economic success of his island nation. His response: we established high standards and stuck to them. The same thing should happen in the Virgin Islands. High standards should be set for youngsters, and the resources, material, moral, and social, to meet those standards should be provided. For these standards to mean anything for young people, they must be modeled by adults. Do as I say rather than as I do will not work.
Adult Involvement
Beyond programs and services, there is a critical need for increased involvement of adults in the lives of children. Throughout our society, children are increasingly isolated from adult involvement. Whether they are parents, teachers, other professionals, or neighbors or adults on the street, there is a tremendous need for direct involvement with youngsters on a continuing basis.
Directly Address Violence
While we have long believed that poverty contributes to violence, it is now increasingly clear that violence contributes significantly to poverty. A climate of violence diminishes the lives of children. We know more and more about how to address and prevent youth violence. The National Campaign Against Youth Violence has identified a range of responses that produce measurable improvement. Eliminating violence should be an explicit goal of this effort, and should not be seen solely as a by-product of other activities.
Big Talkers Need Not Apply
This is a time for leaders. These leaderswill do what has to be done rather than what they want to do. They will generate followers. And they will produce action. They will also have a history of having done things, even small things. Rather than big talk, what is needed is a culture in which every involved adult can say that he or she did something today, however small, to improve the lives of Virgin Islands children. The net result of all of these little daily actions, within the framework of a real strategy and concerted activity, will be measurable improvement in the lives of children and youth in the Virgin Islands. The challenge has been made.
Frank Schneiger
October, 2000

Editor's note: Frank Schneiger is president of the Human Services Management Institute, a consulting firm. He has served as assistant commissioner of Health for the City of New York and founded Comprehensive Medical Management Inc. He is the author of "Cutting and Coping," a how-to guide for managing retrenchment. He has worked with V.I. agencies since 1975, most recently as consultant to United Way of St. Thomas/St. John. He is one of the founders of the St. Thomas/St. John Youth Multiservice Center.
Readers are invited to send comments on this article to source@viaccess.net.

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The Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands' report "Kids Count" is a significant achievement and should be seen as a major opportunity for the Virgin Islands to take critical action.
It is important, however, that everyone understand that the opportunity is a fleeting one. Reports, regardless of their quality or importance, have a very short shelf life. Today's crisis is tomorrow's old news. If substantive action isn't taken within the next few months, the report will become just another indictment of the territory's citizens' inability to face up to and deal with their problems.
There also isn't a lot of room for error or false starts. Improving the lives of the territory's children will require an emotional and spiritual commitment, but it will also require thoughtful and well-planned approaches and a strategy that makes optimal use of scarce resources and does not ignore unpleasant realities. Here are some ideas.
Define Achievable Goals
Given the depths of the problems facing the territory's children, it is critical to identify a set of meaningful and achievable goals that address the priority needs of children.
Virgin Islanders have a tendency to either promote grand schemes that are beyond reach or to believe that nothing is possible. The end results are the same.
I would suggest the following goal: to minimize the most severe effects of poverty on the children and youth of the Virgin Islands. There should be both a short term and a long term strategy for achieving this goal. While a year or two is a brief period for an adult, it is an eternity in the life of a small child. There should be real action on critical items within the first year.
Forget About Blame
Solve the Real Problems. There is a wonderful quote from Descartes about problem definition. It is that "the most corrupting lies are problems misstated." Virgin Islanders are hardly alone in frequently misstating the problems that they face, but such misstatements, particularly in the form of defensive evasions, have become particularly acute in recent years. The problems to be solved involve the impediments to eliminating the impact of poverty on children and youth. Some key questions: What are these impediments? What happens to children and their parents and guardians because of these problems? Which of these problems or impediments is beyond our control? What is the best approach to solving the ones that we can control or influence?
There isn't sufficient time to waste on arguing over who is to blame for the current situation. Blaming invariably places a focus on the past, further divides people, and wastes energy. The only useful responses to key problems are: what are our choices, what are we going to do to fix the problem,and what do we want the future to look like?
It is About Money!
Twenty years ago, a supposedly conservative idea took root in the United States. It was that social problems, particularly the problems of the poor, could be solved by free market capitalism, volunteers,and religious organizations. Government spending was considered wasteful and evil. The CFVI report on children and poverty levels in the Virgin Islands is just one part of the testimony to the failure of this approach. A big part of any strategy for assisting the most disadvantaged children is going to be programs and services. They will cost money. Anyone who pretends that this is a matter of organizing volunteers to meet school buses is misstating the nature and the depth of the problems. In the recent past, it has been fashionable to attack "liberals" and their "failed programs." We have now had two decades of conservative social policy and the results are everywhere to be seen.
Virgin Islanders face a particular problem in funding the programs and services that must make up a part of a strategy for children, whether it is nutrition programs, after-school programs, recreational and cultural programs, or others. The government of the Virgin Islands is incapable of delivering services of this nature and has been for a long time. It is a jobs program. This means that the vehicles for improving the lives of children must be community based or not-for-profit organizations or businesses. The sources of money can be the federal government, charitable giving by individuals, or foundation grants. The "Kids Count" report can be a powerful tool in making the case for spending on Virgin Islands children, if it is linked to a coherent and realistic strategy. To be effective, that strategy must bypass the Virgin Islands government. But no one should be deceived into believing that progress can be made without an investment of resources which is to say, money.
High Standards
The former prime minister of Singapore was recently asked to explain the great economic success of his island nation. His response: we established high standards and stuck to them. The same thing should happen in the Virgin Islands. High standards should be set for youngsters, and the resources, material, moral, and social, to meet those standards should be provided. For these standards to mean anything for young people, they must be modeled by adults. Do as I say rather than as I do will not work.
Adult Involvement
Beyond programs and services, there is a critical need for increased involvement of adults in the lives of children. Throughout our society, children are increasingly isolated from adult involvement. Whether they are parents, teachers, other professionals, or neighbors or adults on the street, there is a tremendous need for direct involvement with youngsters on a continuing basis.
Directly Address Violence
While we have long believed that poverty contributes to violence, it is now increasingly clear that violence contributes significantly to poverty. A climate of violence diminishes the lives of children. We know more and more about how to address and prevent youth violence. The National Campaign Against Youth Violence has identified a range of responses that produce measurable improvement. Eliminating violence should be an explicit goal of this effort, and should not be seen solely as a by-product of other activities.
Big Talkers Need Not Apply
This is a time for leaders. These leaderswill do what has to be done rather than what they want to do. They will generate followers. And they will produce action. They will also have a history of having done things, even small things. Rather than big talk, what is needed is a culture in which every involved adult can say that he or she did something today, however small, to improve the lives of Virgin Islands children. The net result of all of these little daily actions, within the framework of a real strategy and concerted activity, will be measurable improvement in the lives of children and youth in the Virgin Islands. The challenge has been made.
Frank Schneiger
October, 2000

Editor's note: Frank Schneiger is president of the Human Services Management Institute, a consulting firm. He has served as assistant commissioner of Health for the City of New York and founded Comprehensive Medical Management Inc. He is the author of "Cutting and Coping," a how-to guide for managing retrenchment. He has worked with V.I. agencies since 1975, most recently as consultant to United Way of St. Thomas/St. John. He is one of the founders of the St. Thomas/St. John Youth Multiservice Center.
Readers are invited to send comments on this article to source@viaccess.net.