Every year around this time, we hear the classic Marty Robbins’ Christmas Song:
Christmas is for kids, anyway (anyway) You hear this expression every day May the ones, far and near, have a family this year Since Christmas is for kids, anyway.
The Christmas song continues with the line, “For they all need a part in somebody’s heart” and challenges the listener:
May we all look around for a child who’s been let down And love him as we would be loved And regardless of his need may somebody take heed Since Christmas is for kids, anyway.
Many of us take on the challenge by packing shoe boxes with small gifts to send to children in developing nations, “adopting” a needy American family from the “Angel Tree” at church, and/or giving to the Salvation Army or other charitable groups so that needs can be met.
However, we are all aware that nothing can replace a family’s devotion and commitment: nobody loves a child with the same fierce intensity as his or her parents. The government can only do so much. Taxpayer funding can only do so much. The lack of a father in the home is a void that nobody else can fill. Sadly, millions of American children face every holiday and every routine day living with the reality of a never-married mother. Sometimes the situation is life-threatening.
The case of young Deamonte Driver illustrates that point.
In a rare but tragic case in Maryland, twelve-year-old Deamonte Driver died on February 25, 2007, from a severe brain infection caused by the bacteria from an infected tooth. Deamonte’s story illustrates the problems facing many children who lack a married mother-father family. Even though his family was eligible for Medicaid coverage, the Driver family’s coverage had lapsed. The never-married mother explained that three of her five sons had gone to stay with their grandparents in a two-bedroom mobile home while the paperwork to confirm their eligibility was mailed to the shelter where they used to live. Deamonte’s bill for two weeks at Children’s Hospital was expected to be between $200,000 and $250,000; he also had more than six weeks of additional medical treatment, as well as physical and occupational therapy at another hospital. So, although an $80 tooth extraction would probably have taken care of the original problem and saved his life, neither he nor his brothers had received routine dental attention.
The problem? No one had taken care of the paperwork necessary for treatment.
Deamonte’s death was a “shocking wake-up call” that prompted a “flurry of legislation” to correct what everyone called “the failures of our health care system.” Harry Goodman, a health official, told a newspaper reporter, “We got everything we asked for.” Indeed, the Maryland legislature appropriated another $7 million in state funds to be matched by federal funds.
Tragic cases like Deamonte’s cause heartbreak, but pouring more money into federal bureaucratic programs doesn’t solve situations like this. Federal systems can only do so much. It makes us feel better to spend more, but does it work? Why do we continue to think that increasing the federal bureaucracy will take care of problems?
This failure of publicly funded health care occurred despite recent increases in federal Medicaid spending — an increase of $146 billion from 2000 to 2007 — proving that merely spending more dollars will not solve the problem. The whole approach to services must be reformed in order to achieve better coordination and responsive service for the nation’s poor. Nor will monetary increases, even in the billions of dollars, help if fraudulent spending at both the state and federal levels is not addressed.
We are already spending a fortune, and still children like Deamonte continue to fall victim to the overwhelming problems facing never-married mothers.
Often such mothers have multiple children and no father (or fathers) around. In the dozens of stories about Deamonte, there is no mention of a father. Most unmarried mothers who try to make it on their own do so typically with inadequate education and resources; in too many cases they lack a support system to provide backup help in times of crisis. These moms need all the support and encouragement that our welfare system was designed to provide, and, though many try valiantly to make the cumbersome system work, it too often fails. At the same time, we need to increase awareness among young girls and women of the overwhelming difficulties and almost insurmountable problems inherent in single motherhood.
Deamonte represents the millions of children in this land of plenty who lack the most important key to a child’s well-being, a married mom-and-dad family.
For those children, we desperately need to restore the cultural expectation that marriage precedes having children and that fathering a child obligates a man to marry the mother of his child so that he is there to provide the help that both the mother and the child need — not just for health and survival, but also to thrive in all dimensions of the good life promised by a democratic society. At Christmas time, the tragedy of neglected and needy children is especially troubling and heartbreaking. Marty Robbins was right: Christmas is for kids, and their foremost need is for a married mom and dad who are there to celebrate with them.