Prather Pediatric and Allergy Center - Ask Doctor Brent

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Title: How We Look At Children in Our Society

Category: Access To Children's Health Care


A recent conference sponsored by the American Academy of Pediatrics studied health care comparisons in the Unite States, Canada and Europe. One major area studied was how we view and treat children in our society compared to Canada and the European countries. Most of the European countries and Canada consider their children to be a national resource and something to be treasured. Certainly the majority of us in our society do the same but yet our laws allow children to be treated as chattel by their families. In other words, in America, parents can do pretty much whatever they want with their children and in most cases, get away with it. This seems to be part of our legal system which supports the rights of the individual but, in my opinion, often neglects the rights of the child. Very frequently when children are abused physically and sexually, they are placed back in their own home with their abusive parents. Certainly this is a very complex issue and I don't mean to belittle the difficulty in caring for this enormous problem. I do believe, however, that children must be protected at all times and in many more cases taken out of the home where abuse is taking place until the parents are clearly safe care givers. In my opinion, this is a case where the child's right should supersede the parent's individual right to have their child in the home. In other words, because of the needed protection of the child, society should temporarily take away the rights of the parent until they are reasonably capable of being good care givers. It seems to me that there is so much legalistic wrangling in our society that the simple protection of the child gets put aside because of the so called "rights of the parents" and the "proof beyond doubt" which can take up tons of time and money in our legal system. Also the social worker who is caught in the middle is afraid of being sued if they go too far in protecting the child and take away any rights of the parent. This is certainly an immensely complex issue and I don't have a simple solution for it but wanted to point out that it is not nearly as big a problem in other modern societies as it is in America today. Another area regarding individualistic rights of parents is providing immunizations to children. Despite the knowledge that immunizations save lives and also prevent life threatening infection from spreading from un-immunized children to other children in their community, a parent can still refuse immunizations on religious grounds. They can also refuse in California on the simple basis of personal preference. In other words, we are leaving immunization of children (protection of children) up to parents rather than taking on that responsibility as a country.

Another area which I feel strongly about is the importance of a mother spending time with her new baby. In every other modern country a mother gets a minimum of three months paid leave from her job and is guaranteed her job when she returns. In some countries she can be off as long as two years to nurture her young child and still be guaranteed her job when she gets back. She is not paid during that time but her job is protected. A bill to address this problem has been kicked around in Congress for five years and a solution has still not been found.

Another area critical to young growing children in our society is day care. Day care standards are very lacking in America compared to other modern industrial countries and because of these low standards many children, particularly from poor families, are spending one to five years in a very substandard day care facility where they are not learning and growing in a healthy way to be prepared for success in later school. In the worst scenario many of these children are at actual risk for their life and safety. We must do something at a federal level to provide basic safety standards regarding health and safety staff training and staff to children ratios to protect these young people in our society. The last compromise passed in Congress would not address this controversial question and threw it back to the states to set standards. Unfortunately many states have not done so and the problem continues to roll along.

In summary if we are to learn from other modern industrial countries, we must change our philosophy regarding children and our responsibility as a society to those children. We must meet their needs regarding health care availability, regarding immunizations, and regarding provision of an environment in which they can develop safe and sound, and be well prepared for success in school and in later life. If we as adults do not take good care of our young children today, where will we be in 20 to 40 years when they are the productive members of society supporting us in our social security age.

Remember, children cannot speak for themselves. The elderly in our society have had probably the strongest political lobby in the last twenty years of any single group. Children unfortunately have not had much of a lobby politically other than the American Academy of Pediatrics and a few other child advocate groups. We must meet these needs for our children on moral grounds and hopefully our society will ultimately be judged by the way it cared for its weakest and most vulnerable and not by its military might or wealth of its lucky few. Join me and the American Academy of Pediatrics in lobbying Congress to do everything we can to begin to catch up with these other modern industrial countries and to be proud of the way we care for our children.