Letters & Opinion

Family Policy Matters

Clement Wulf-Soulage
By Clement Wulf-Soulage

SO I see Saint Lucia is jostling for the dubious and admonitory honour of the most broken society in the Eastern Caribbean!

If the rise in assaults, threats, robberies, rapes and murders is symptomatic of an appalling epidemic of family breakdown, then it’s time for our society to take a more robust position on family policy (the lodestar of social policy) that protects (disadvantaged) families and improves their quality of life – through legislation, early intervention and technical assistance.

I habour absolutely no doubt that the breakdown in family values (with the accompanying economic and cultural consequences) and poor policing (including heedless investigations) are behind the upsurge in crime and violence in the country. The moral retrenchment (particularly murders and robberies) in the last five weeks tells some painful truths about Saint Lucia at the dawn of a new year.

Alas, a momentary snapshot of many of our families (the basic unit of society) and communities reveals a picture of a nation that has become disunited, selfish and individualistic. Not only has the family structure collapsed, the “mediating structures” – neighbourhoods, churches and schools – have also failed us miserably, particularly our children. The weak link may well be the parents themselves – who are often very poor at parenting – hence, family problems have now become the nation’s problems.

A deep-rooted or bred-in-the-bone concern for our children no longer seems to be a prime factor in how we live our lives. The ramifications of the breakdown of the family are far-reaching and alarming, as cases of domestic violence continue to rise, with women and children facing the greatest danger.

From the face of it, religious institutions have virtually little to no moral or spiritual impact on Saint Lucian society, as there no longer seems to be much stigma attached to sexual assault – more or less seen as an unavoidable rite of passage in a society characterized by blithe indifference and breathtaking double-standards. Ours is a nation of sharp elbows where money has become a deity and role models are in short supply.

As it turns out, youth violence has become a metaphor for the state of our society, needless to say that the potential for social anarchy is great, as increasingly more youngsters hang around street corners with nothing to do. The increasing ghettoisation of the city of Castries – with its attendant problems (teenage pregnancy i.e. children bearing children, juvenile delinquency and a drop in educational attainment) – are pushing us towards the abyss.

We often talk about economic growth as an end in itself, as opposed to social growth as a means to an economic end. Change through family policy is a unique opportunity because it has the highest potential for social and economic impact in the country. Since development is about reducing vulnerabilities and increasing the capacity of people and institutions, a family policy that empowers parents and rebuilds our sense of community must be the main instrument to improve human welfare in our small communities, and to meet both our developmental and democratic needs.

John W. Whitehead, President of The American Rutherford Foundation believes that the extent of the break-down in the family structure is both a causal and correlational factor in the underdevelopment and democratic deficit in nations. He writes: “The data supports the premise that the decline in the family leads to a decline in our democratic form of government. Indeed, the family, not schools, is where children should learn self-government, basic moral values and the beliefs that determine the future of democratic institutions. Thus, it stands to reason that without stable families, we can have no hope of producing self-reliant, responsible citizens… A robust family policy can help nip the problem in the bud.”

It is unlikely that social policy will succeed if it is focussed on the consequences, rather than the causes. First, we’ll need to have strong institutions with research capability that feeds the policy-making process. Second, an entire infrastructure of care (in the form of family planning, affordable day-care, early education and after-school programmes) is needed to help families invest in the next generation. Another priority is to enhance the long-run financial viability of the social safety net (shock absorbers, fiscal stimuli, economic stabilizers and income-security programmes) for the protection of vulnerable children and the impoverished elderly.

Action on strengthening families, tackling educational failure, reforming welfare, ending drug and alcohol addiction is foundational to mending our broken society. Essentially, the provision of social services for the homeless, disabled, mentally ill and the elderly should not be seen through the prism of costs and fiscal constraints; neither should the social sector be treated as a burden on society. Instead social services should be viewed as an essential factor for a liveable society and for economic prosperity.

Without a reversal of the social breakdown and disorder that characterises life in many of our deprived communities today, we will continue to see wasted generation after wasted generation. Now, what really matters is whether we’ve recognized that the present trends in behaviour and values are taking us in the wrong direction.
For comments, write to [email protected] – Clement Wulf-Soulage is a Management Economist, Published Author and Former University Lecturer.

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