Sunday, June 14, 2009

Just Sad

Last week I wrote a post about the potential elimination of an after-school voucher program intended for families unable to care for their children for mental health type of issues. The program seems to basically benefit yeshiva/Bais Yaakov type schools and the proposed elimination has the Agudah screaming bloody murder. While the Agudah screams about funding cuts (delivering 30,000 letters from community members), I'm screaming about the tremendous level of dependency which is quite detrimental to the Orthodox community, certainly as detrimental as funding cuts.

Now the NY Times is running yet another installment on this budget issue and I can't help but just feel a great amount of sorrow. Here are some quotes on record:
  • A mother of 11 who has 5 children on Priority 7 vouchers says: "If I didn’t have it, my head would spin. It gives me time to take care of my other children.”
  • An administrator of a school with an after school program: “People don’t earn a lot of money. In some small apartments, some children come home to 11, 12 people in the family. I really think without after-school care, the children will probably go crazy. There will be parents and children who have to start taking pills. It’s really going to affect them tremendously.”

Let me make this clear. I like large families. But this is just a sad "report" (if accurate and in context) on the State of the Union. I can't even imagine being an elementary school child and being unable to return home after school to my own home where my own mother/father is because she can't handle having me around.

If there are so many families are truly in over their heads (article mentions another 1422 families on the waiting list in addition to the 2000 using the program), I think the community leadership needs to actually deal with that issues beyond trying to protest funding cuts. The solution to all problems can't be to spend money, either government funds that might be cut or personal funds that might run short.

I don't have the solution on how to raise a family of 11 or 12 children in an apartment in Brooklyn. I do know that when you are facing difficult issues, that it is ultimately better to learn a new skill set.

Taxpayers aren't going to be happy to read this report either.


alpidarkomama said...

"I don't have the solution on how to raise a family of 11 or 12 children in an apartment in Brooklyn. I do know that when you are facing difficult issues, that it is ultimately better to learn a new skill set."

WELL SAID! Another great posting...

DAG said...

I have to wonder about the cumulative effect these stories about orthodox Jews can have on the public at large. Jailhouse Bar Mitzvahs, welfare for families of 11, Rubashkin, etc...

rosie said...

From reading the article, it appeared that many of the children were already under the auspices of the ACS, which put them in the category of needing special services. It doe not sound like pills will help since ACS is probably trying to avoid placing the children in foster care. If the children really can't return home, most likely they will be removed from their homes.
It appears that there is more to it than free, government sponsored babysitting so that the parents can relax. Having the children out of the mother's care for most of the day is an alternative to removing them. Foster care also costs the city plenty of money; even more than after school care.
A bigger question is why are the rabbonim encouraging families to live this way? I also love large families but if the families are under the scrutiny of the authorities because of neglect, they need to speak to their rabbonim.

ProfK said...

There seem to be two issues at play here. The first issue is mothers of large families who cannot cope with their family responsibilities and who need child care help, for their mental well-being and the well-being of their children. As the article you link to states, the Priority 7 program is basically exclusively utilized by frum Jews. This should be raising a red flag in the frum community, but rallying for the continuance of the program is not what is key here. What is key is that a large number of families with a large number of children in them are at risk. Surely what should be being looked at closely by the frum community is why this problem exists, and how can it be eliminated.

Call me a skeptic if you must, but I'm also wondering about why this problem has sprouted in the last few years? Is it possible that it sprouted because government money was available? In other words, what did these same large families do in prior decades when government money was not available? Large families in Williamsburg and other chassidishe areas are nothing new and have been around for far longer than Priority 7 has been around. What did the frum community, not the government, do to help out these families, if anything? Was it considered necessary back then?

I'm not doubting that some mothers of large families cannot healthily cope with their responsibilities. But why such an onslaught of numbers now?

If I understand things correctly, it is not the families which are getting this money but the schools that provide the after school care. At $15 million and 2000 families that is $7500 per family that the schools are getting. The article stated that 100 principals attended a meeting about the cuts. So let's for a moment assume that 100 schools are involved across the city. At 2000 families and 100 schools that would be 20 families per school, assuming equal distribution. Cutting out the program would be a cut of $150K per school. If less than 100 schools are involved then the amount to the schools left is more. Yeah, I would yell too if that much money was going to be eliminated from my school budget.

Something is not adding up here. If there are facts not mentioned in the article which would explain the numbers, they should have been published. I'm NOT against helping those who truly need the help but 2 and 2 are not adding up here.

Orthonomics said...

Of course two and two aren't adding up. This program is providing more money for after-school program than tuition! I think the parents are probably less in need of this program (it didn't exist until 2000) than the schools.

In this installment I just wanted to take a look at the comments because they are quite revealing and should be taken seriously. There is a lot of learning that could be done. I'm not speaking of chizuk and hashkafah, but about hands on learning.

Avi Greengart said...

Taxpayers aren't going to be happy to read this report either.

Absolutely not. It is in the city's best interest - regardless of whether there is money to fund it - to kill entitlement programs that encourage dependency. This isn't a safety net program used to protect against temporary unemployment or a program designed to raise the educational level of its participants. This is a program that primarily serves a group who are living a lifestyle that they have freely chosen that essentially mandates poverty and dependence on other taxpayers. As such, taxpayers should be expected to say, 'hey, if you want to live in poverty for religious reasons, have at it. But don't demand that others fund your religious lifestyle.' Of course, the program appears to have been designed expressly as a quid pro quo for votes, so its possible that it will continue.

But as a community you shouldn't be relying on this sort of thing because political expediency changes. I think the Rabbanim should allow the kahal to watch cable TV so that they can watch "Jon & Kate + Eight" and see how a family with just 8 young kids is viewed: a reality show to be ridiculed and pitied. I'm not suggesting that having a large family is wrong, just that American culture clearly thinks that having a large family is wrong, and if you're going to buck societal norms, you can't also ask that society to fund the effort. It's bound to backfire.

Anonymous said...

Avi, I'm not sure that Americans view having a large family as wrong. The Duggers of Arkansas have more kids than most frum families, yet they're self supporting -- they own a string of used car lots or something like that, so they were self supporting before they started writing books and getting lots of publicity. They're viewed as an oddity, but not evil. The Gosselins are viewed negatively since they appear to be cashing in via the reality show in order to make ends meet. (I've never seen the show, but I have leafed through the Duggers' book). Americans don't mind weird people, but they do seem to mind dependency.

Leah Goodman said...

I went to the doctor about 6 weeks after my most recent child was born. He asked me how I was coping, and I said it was quite hard. He wrote me a prescription, told me to take nifty pills every day, and guess what? Since then, there haven't been any more babies and the kids are growing and I'm getting better at coping with the children I have.

I'm sure that many people will say that I'm doing a horrible aveira, but I think that it's a horrible aveira to give birth to children you have no reasonable way to raise.

JS said...

I'm sure there are exceptions, but I don't see how parents, after school care or not, can possibly adequately raise 11 or 12 children. I know several people from very large families and the only ones who were well-functioning either had very rich families with tons of help, or were just lucky to find their way. The stories I've heard from these people about what it was like growing up, what their siblings went through - it just made me cringe. Parents simply too busy to give comfort or guidance. Kids doing poorly in school and parents unable or not having time to deal with it. Not even encouraging kids in yeshiva studies. Many of the kids "at risk." I don't see this as a mitzvah.

Orthonomics said...

It certainly isn't easy, but I happen to know children from both very large Jewish and non-Jewish families who seemed to really enjoy their family life.

Anonymous said...


I have a close friend who is the oldest of 13 who has an amazing relationship with her parents and siblings.

It can be done--just not by everyone.

JS said...

Anonymous, completely agree. The problem is that many parents who shouldn't be having very large families, do.

Leah Goodman said...

what I don't understand is this. Before you had 11, you had 10. If 10 was too much for you to deal with, why the @#$@# did you have another one?!

Right now, I know that I'm stretched to my limit handling my two. I would be irresponsible if I had a third at this point.