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Sunday, 3.13.05: The Persistence of Institutions

And so I have read about the Magdalene Asylums in Ireland and the 19th century orphanages in St. Louis.

In "Mending Wall," Robert Frost wrote:

Something there is that doesn't love a wall
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun...

And yet,

We keep the wall between us as we go...
He only says 'Good fences make good neighbors'...

We're all familiar with Oliver Twist and Orphan Annie. Like genocide, after the big expos, we say never again. In 1994 we were shocked, shocked when Newt Gingrich thought we should bring back institutions for children whose parents couldn't care for them. And it was about that time the agency I worked for committed itself to systematizing ways to keep children out of institutions and with their own families.

But that was 10 years ago. What has been the track record of this organization? Where has their money been invested?

In acquiring more institutions and spending millions in private and public dollars to "upgrade" the old orphanage buildings to make them "state-of-the-art." Efforts to keep families together -- which mostly involve alleviating poverty, creating good jobs with flexible hours for parents, and supporting strong schools -- are quickly overwhelmed.

We're in a cycle where government policy sends the money to fat cats. And, as far as kids go, the fat cats are less interested in innovation than in having buildings named after themselves. Sure, there are exceptions, quixotic reformers and a few enlightened fat cats who know that broken families and broken down institutionalized children aren't good for business.

But the institutions persist.

 

 
 

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