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Huffington Post: Solutions for Vulnerable Families Start with Context

December 15, 2016

Earlier this month, Eldar Shafir, co-author of Scarcity: The New Science of Having Less and How it Defines Our Lives, joined Children’s Law Center at NPR’s headquarters. Together he, Children’s Law Center Executive Director Judith Sandalow and Shankar Vedantam, host of NPR’s Hidden Brain, discussed how scarcity—of time, money and resources—impacts our most vulnerable children.

In her Huffington Post blog, the first part in a two-part series, Children’s Law Center Executive Director Judith Sandalow reflects on the conversation. 

You can teach a child to swim, but she will still drown in a stormy sea.

Seem obvious?

What if the child is a 29-year-old mother? Instead of learning to swim, she learns how to budget. And, instead of being thrown into a stormy sea, she receives just $428 a month in TANF benefits on which to support herself and her two children.

Eldar Shafir, co-author of Scarcity: The New Science of Having Less and How it Defines Our Lives, argues the mother will “drown” financially for the same reason as the child. Our behavior, he argues, is overwhelmingly controlled by our situation, even when that situation isn’t as intense as a stormy sea or extreme poverty.

If the goal of child welfare is to keep children safe, Shafir’s research suggests anger management classes might do more harm than good. Instead, helping parents change their situation is the smarter solution. Increasing parents’ financial support, for example, or creating community centers with easy access to social services and providing a chance for neighbors to support one another.

I know it works because I see it every day. Communities succeed when children succeed. Children succeed when their parents succeed. But in a storm, even the most ferocious swimmer can’t make it to shore without a lifeboat.

Follow the link below to read the full blog.