Running away from home it’s been a plot staple for every family sitcom for 40 years, neatly wrapped up within 30 minutes by pearl-wearing mothers and gently chuckling fathers. We’ve all known grittier real-life versions of this middle-class tale. The kid rebels the parents are unreasonable, the expectations too rigid or the communication nonexistent and takes off. But eventually, everybody starts to talk, perhaps with some professional help. The child returns home and the tangled knot of anger unravels.
So it makes sense to most middle-class minds that when it comes time to reform state welfare requirements, the first goal should be returning teen moms to their homes. It’s worked on television, worked for the family next door, so why wouldn’t it work for those 16-year-old welfare mothers?
The answer is that the sitcom scenario doesn’t match the reality of a certain core group of these young women. These teens aren’t dealing with a bumbling, distracted father or a well-meaning but ditzy mother. They endure the demands of their father, stepfather or mother’s boyfriend for sex in the night. They dodge fists or the jagged edges of broken bottles in the daylight. They run from situations so dangerous, so threatening to their lives, their psyches or both, that even Spokane’s streets appear a comforting haven. They race from pain so bone-deep and destroying that they begin to crave anything that will dull it: drugs; the numbing effect of sex with a 30-year-old boyfriend that, mixed with enough beer, passes for love; or the delusion that an infant’s gaze finally can provide the unconditional adoration they’ve craved forever.
These are the young women for whom the states’ new residential requirements pose the greatest risk. They would return to the streets before they’d subject their babies to the pain they have endured in their own homes.
One way or another, the community will pay for the wounds that have been inflicted on these teens so young. States and communities must invest in common-sense solutions such as residential facilities, like Volunteers of America’s Alexandria’s House, and in prevention and treatment programs for domestic violence and sexual abuse.
The answers can be simple ones: healthy new relationships that can begin to replace earlier damaging connections; help with food, clothing and shelter; mental health counseling; and education. If we don’t get this right, it’s certain we’ll get another chance to do better - when the next generation shows up just as deeply wounded, just as mired in the unremitting pain their parents know so well.
, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Jamie Tobias Neely For the editorial board