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Families in peril: an agenda for social change.

Families in Peril: An Agenda for Social Change Families in Peril: An Agenda for Social Change. Marian Wright Edelman. Cabridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1987, $15.00.

It costs $47 for a complete set of immunizations for a child. It costs an estimated $25.000 per year to keep a mentally retarded child in an institution.

It costs $600 to provide a year of compensatory education services to a teen; it costs more than $2,400 to finance a repeated grade for a disadvantaged student.

It costs $1,000 to provide a summer job for a teen; it costs $20,000 to keep that teen in a juvenile institution for a year.

Families in Peril: An Agenda for Social Change is full of dramatically juxtaposed statistics such as these. Written by Marian Wright Edelman, President of The Children's Defense Fund (CDF), the book is about children in families handicapped by poverty. Many are also in our special education programs. Edelman employs an ecological analysis, emphasizing relationships among prenatal care; health and nutrition; day care; unemployment; teenage pregnancy; young single parent families; crime; educational handicaps; and government policy. Her format for addressing these problems is familiar to special educators: thorough fact-finding and analysis; seeing a problem whole and breaking it into manageable pieces; delineating long-term, intermediate, and short-term goals; pursuing them through a range of strategies; and evaluating and adaptation to changes.

Edelman's descriptive statistics speak for themselves. She documents how many Black families have lost economic ground, especially since 1980. Today Black children are more likely to be born in poverty, lack prenatal care, and have single, unemployed parents. Compared to White children, they are twice as likely to be born prematurely, to be suspended from school, suffer corporal punishment in school, and live in institutions; three times more likely to be poor or placed in programs for educable mentally retarted; four times more likely to be incarcerated between ages 15 and 19; five times more likely to be dependent on welfare; 12 times more likely to live with a parent who has never been married. Although Black birthrates are decreasing, marriage rates are falling even faster. Only 40% of Black children now live in two parent families and nearly 85% of Black households headed by a female under the age of 25 are below the poverty level.

Edelman cites multiple for this situation, but stresses the inability of many young Black men to support families due to a lack of skills, insufficient jobs, and inadequate pay. Poverty is not just a Black problem, however, A larger proportion of Black are poor, but a larger number of Whites are poor, and some poverty-related conditions, such as young single mothers, are growing more rapidly among Whites.

Economic recession, structural changes in the economy, and changing family demographics have contributed to the worsening situation, but Edelman emphazises the impact of federal policies in the wake of Great Society advances in the 1960s. Minimum wages have eroded over the past 20 years. By 1986, full-time employment at the minimum wage earned just 75% of poverty level income for a family of three. Especially during the Reagan administration, programs for low income families have been attacked. Welfare benefits have fallen; health, nutrition, Head-Start, and jobs programs have been reduced, and there have been attempts to curtail federal support for education of handicapped children. At the same time, there have been massive increases in military spending. (The proposed FY 1987 military budget income exceeded the total federal spending for both and AFDC and Food Stamp programs.) Thus, Edelman believes America has the resources but has failed to invest them to solve our marjor social problem.

She sees multiple approaches for attacking poverty, but reducing teenage pregnancies is critical. To do this, community support and value systems must be rebuilt. Individuals, organizations, and government must provide alternatives to young, single parenthood. Welfare reform must reverse built-in incentives for family breakup and provide provide adequate income to meet basic needs. Compensatory education, vocational training, and employer programs, including child care and health insurance, offer opportunities to move away from welfare dependence.

Edelman believes leadership is a key to social change. Leaders must be not only caring, but also good at fact finding, goal setting, follow-up, and collaboration, and at offering constructive alternatives to existing policies, taking risks, and being persistent. Surely Edelman's work with the CDF provides a model of such leadership.

Special educators should be intereted in Edelman's analysis and proposals in action. She reminds us that our business must be part of more comprehensive interventions to prevent, as well as remediate, handicaps. Edelman also recognizes that reducing poverty must be a pragmatic concern of all members of society: "We invest in children because the cost of the public of sickness, ignorance, neglect, dependence, and unemployement over the long term exceeds the cost of preventive investments in health, education, employed youth, and stable families."
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Copyright 1988 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Zabel, Robert H.
Publication:Exceptional Children
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Apr 1, 1988
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