Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Rescuing Starfish

You have probably heard the "Starfish Story" or the "Star Thrower", but allow me to offer a new perspective.
Boy & StarfishAs the story goes, a man was walking along a beach. The sun was shining, and it was a beautiful day. In the distance he could see a boy going back and forth between the surf's edge and the beach. Back and forth the boy went. As the man approached he could see that there were hundreds of starfish stranded on the sand.

The man was struck by the apparent futility of the task. There were so many starfish. Many of them were sure to perish. As he approached, the boy continued picking up starfish one by one and throwing them into the surf.

As he came up to the boy he said, "Son, there are miles of beach covered with starfish. You can't possibly make a difference."

The boy looked at the man. He then stooped down and pick up one more starfish and threw it back into the ocean. He turned back to the man and said, "It sure made a difference to that one!"
It's a powerful story about the difference that one person can make, and I think we should all do our part to make a difference on an individual basis. However, I think we should also take a look from the perspective of why so many starfish are stuck on the shore.

The problem with the Starfish Story is that it lets you feel good about ignoring systemic problems.

We have great people working as social workers, CPS workers, family support specialists, teachers, therapists, attorneys and so on - helping save children each and every day. They are making a huge difference, and I am happy to count many as my friends. However, our society must do a better job about keeping the proverbial starfish off of the shore in the first place.

As we are working individually throwing the starfish back in the ocean and helping them live, we must also work together, to figure out why the starfish are stuck on the shoreline and do something about it.

Far too many children in our state and nation live in abusive and neglectful homes. Far too many live without homes. Far too many are sick. They are stuck in dangerous situations "on the shore".

We can rescue a child from an abusive home. We can help a family find a home. We can cure a sick child. Those are admirable, tremendous endeavors. However, we must also do something that makes these challenging situations much more rare.

Let's work together to build protective factors that will prevent child abuse and neglect. Let's work together to make sure that all families have affordable housing and earn a living wage so they don't end up homeless. Let's work together to make sure that all children have health insurance and access to quality health care.

Let's help each and every "starfish" that needs our help, but let's also consider how we can prevent the problems from happening in the first place -- not just ways to rescue folks on an individual basis.

As Oscar Goldman would say, "We have the technology..." We can do better. Now we just have to do it.

Will you join me on the beach as we work to make a difference for this one all children?

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