Archive for October, 2009

Welcome To The Village Formerly Known As Southeastern Michigan

October 22, 2009

Detroit was recently ranked as the worst place in America to raise children, according to Children’s Health Magazine.  Since KwameGate this type of sentiment has been heaped upon Detroit, by the rest of the nation through the media.  About 2 years ago, another magazine named Detroit as one of the most interesting cities in the world to visit.  Neither of these sensational claims is wholly accurate but there are certain “truths” associated with each assertion.

About fifteen years ago, I became aware of the fact that Detroit had a higher infant mortality rate than some Third World countries.  The death rate of newborns has been one of Detroit’s “dirty little secrets” for many years.  I have not heard any recent information that dispels this unfortunate shame.   I also know from my work, over the past twenty years, that too many young mothers are delivering premature and low birth weight babies that end up with a multiplicity of congenital problems that affect the children’s physical and mental development. 

“The Village” is not adequately preparing its best and brightest to compete in the ultra competitive world of the 21st century because 15 to 20% of its children are not receiving proper nurturance. 

In November 2008, I attended Michigan’s first ever Poverty Summit, sponsored by the Michigan Department of Human Services (DHS).  It was an ambitious yet chaotic attempt to get service providers and consumers together to strategize about ways to end poverty and strengthen families.  Some of the DHS staff were unhappy because attendance for many of them was mandatory and some customers were openly hostile to the “suits”.  Emotions ran high in a session I attended as customers came face to face with DHS personnel and took out their frustrations on them knowing that they would never get away with such conduct in front of their case workers.  We accomplished little at that particular session.  I attended another session that involved discussions about at risk children from infancy to about age 5.  I found out that Afrikan American and Hispanic children in that age group, who are at or below the poverty level, tend to have the highest rates of mortality, congenital problems and learning deficits here in Michigan.  Sitting there listening to moribund statistical information that afternoon and being one of only four blacks in a room of about forty people, was very unsettling to me.  It was one of the few times in my adult life when I felt absolutely helpless.  The statistics that were presented to the group revealed a statewide crisis in black and Latino communities, yet there was very little visible representation by the two groups in our session.  The one positive that I walked away with that day was that the presenting Agency (I don’t remember its name but I remember is a publically funded organization) was (is) lobbying to have mandatory educational services begin for children at 3 years of age, here in Michigan.  And the Agency appears to have the means to influence legislation to make this goal a reality.    

I know from my professional experience that the sooner at risk children are placed in structured situations the greater their chances for improvement in all areas of life.  The most readily available “structured environment” that a child has these days is the school that he or she attends.  We could argue to infinity about how good the current educational system is here in Detroit but that’s another blog.   

There is a national movement, promoted by President Barack Obama, to increase the amount of time children spend in school each year.  I am hoping that the effort here in Michigan to enroll children in school by age 3 will succeed, as part of the national effort to improve each child’s education.

Problems related to day to day existence in Southeastern Michigan have reached critical mass.  Poverty remains as the underlying source of most of the regions problems.  Efforts are being made by national, state and local government agencies to correct some of these problems but bureaucrats cannot correct the dysfunction that occurs within families.  We need to reclaim ownership of The Village by taking personal responsibility for our lives and the lives of our children.

 Ann Arbor, Detroit and surrounding areas have some of the finest medical delivery systems in the country.  We need to move legislatively to ensure that children’s health and education are the region’s main priorities.  We have known for decades about the problems that plague our children.  In the 21st century, such problems should not exist in a region that boast of superior health care delivery or one that provides tax incentives to lure media and technology to the area.  The dichotomy between available resources and the plight of the poor and disenfranchised is too great to be ignored.  The whole world is watching us.  And more importantly, we should be striving as a cohesive group to resolve these problems.  We need to have a greater sense of urgency when it comes to resolving issues that we are savagely critisized about by the national media. 

We cannot make the legacy of Kwame and allegations of corruption go away but we can remedy the health care crisis, have better educated children by utilizing existing community resources.  We must have regional cooperation and must take more collective responsibility.



October 19, 2009

I had a recent discussion with a mental health service provider about the need for accurate diagnoses and precise psychometrics, when making initial evaluations of young children and adolescents.  “Official” determinations made about children, during their critical years, can often determine the course of their education and later the direction of their adult lives.

For over thirty years, I was part of the “system” that often misdiagnoses or carelessly labels children when evaluating or developing treatment programs for them.  Once children are deemed “defective”, educators and families-that would normally provide nurturance and support-become discouraged and make little or no effort to habilitate the children.  By the time most of these children reach puberty, they are under socialized, undereducated and difficult to motivate to achieve.

The causes of these callous injustices to children are many.  One of the root causes unfortunately is greed.  There is a lot of pressure on many publically funded agencies and private practitioners to generate income for their respective entities.  Schools are provided additional funds to provide resources for developmentally challenged students and practitioners can generate enormous fees by providing services to customers. 

A psychologist, that I have great respect for, once terminated his contract with a charter school because the administrator tried to pressure him into “low balling” IQ scores for many of the students he contracted to test.  The incentive for the administrator was additional funding from the Federal Government for children in his school that were determined to be mentally retarded.  The higher the percentage of children in special educational curriculums meant more denaro for his budget. 

 The Agency that I worked for contracted for psychometric and psychological assessments, performed by private contractors, in the local community.  About fifteen years ago, a vendor that was at the end of her contract with us began providing the Agency with successively lower and lower IQ scores for customers that we sent to her for testing.  After reviewing one of her reports that revealed dramatically lower scores, when compared to previously testing, I contacted the vendor and asked her to provide me with the raw scores she had obtained during the testing.  She became indignant with me and refused to accommodate my request.  Her indignation signaled to me that she had something that she did not want us to know about her testing protocol.  My suspicions of her misfeasance were confirmed, in the past few years, as the Agency retested those customers when they obtained the age of consent.  Most or all of them tested in the average to low average ranges of intelligence.  Unfortunately for them, during their formative years, they had been labeled as mentally challenged.   As adults, most of them had not graduated from high school, were functionally illiterate and were dependent on their families for survival.    I’m not sure why the vendor chose to low ball so many IQ.  I suspect that she convinced the families that the children were disabled and that she could “treat” them, after they received disability benefits.  I know for certain that the lives of those children and their families were inexorably damaged because they were callously labeled as “defective”, at an early age.           

There is a small percentage of the population that can legitimately be characterized as mentally challenged for a variety of reasons.  If they receive accurate diagnoses active treatment and structured lifestyles, most can lead productive lives.  I worked with a great psychiatrist that befriended me, after he came to work at the Agency.  His youngest child was characterized as developmentally challenged.  The learned doctor knew that his son could achieve, despite his intellectual challenges.  My friend an colleague “Doctor O” tutored his child each day before sending him off to school.  Doctor O’s love, combined with his faith in his child’s abilities was rewarded when his son graduated from college.

Throughout my career, at the Agency, I implored parents to turn off televisions and devote several nights each week to family activities such as reading and storytelling.  I grew up at a time when education was a family value.  I learned to read and write well before I entered the school system.  Television was a treat that we received about an hour each night after we had dinner, had washed the dishes and finished our homework.  Today, television aka the ‘plug in drug’ has become a major source of social instruction and edutainment for many people who believe that everything presented on the tube to be true or a reflection of what is or what should be.  And it has replaced much of the face to face interactions that families engaged in before the widespread use of the technology.

A few years ago, I talked to a 12-year-old that informed that she was an honors student, at the house warming of a co-worker.  The child was computer literate and obviously of above average intelligence.  It was the beginning of summer, so I implored her to read novels as a source of entertainment.  I stated that “reading is fundamental”.  Excitement registered on her face as she informed me that she could relate to what I was saying because she had heard the same phrase parroted on the Disney Channel!

We live in a time when instant gratification is valued over all else.  I too had become the victim of over stimulation by multi-channeled television, video games and glitzy music videos.  I have developed mild attention deficit disorder.  When the Agency went paperless, about 5 years ago, I forced my old brain to attend to my computer monitor, by reading and re-reading each line of text.  It’s ruined my eyesight but it’s forced me to focus on screen text for extended periods of time.  My ability to focus for extended periods has turned me into a prolific blogging.  And it has allowed me to rediscover my first love: reading real books. 

When I left the Agency this summer, I devoted most of my free time to reading books in the park.  My eyesight has improved and my old brain is better able to focus.  You can’t teach old dogs new tricks but you can get them to continue doing what they have already learned.  If you motivate a child to succeed at an early age they will endeavor to achieve for the remainder of their lives.  I liken it to an apple tree that I planted in my yard when I first moved into my home.  With care and nurturance, it produced an abundance of fruit.