Ever since 9/11, the term “First-Responder” has become embedded within our culture. It was not that long ago that they were simply referred to as police, firefighters, EMTs, et cetera. But First-Responder is really a great term–a class of emergency personnel ready and available anytime, anyplace; whatever the emergency might be.
Of course, Emergency Services are expected in our quasi-socialistic culture. We pay taxes which pays for a whole plethora of public services, all designed for public safely, order, military protection; all necessary to preserve the wellbeing of our citizenry. This is, and should be, a primary function of our Government.
A component of this Public Protection system is what is known as the “Child Protection Services” (CPS) that swoops in as a First-Responder when there is suspected child abuse or neglect. Of course this is an important function. But it also raises some issues because “neglect” and some types of “abuse” are very subjective and culturally skewed. Yes, we definitely need government to be there to protect children. On the other hand, research makes it very clear that this type of “protective” intervention is extraordinarily traumatizing to children and their families, and in many cases, does more damage than good in the long term.
It seems to me that for First-Response to really be effective, it needs to happen very early on, not after a blowup, crisis or tragedy. Seriously, we want the fire department to show up when the fire is just starting, not when the house is burned down!
So, where do you draw the line for governmental First-Response with families, and are there any alternatives? These are extraordinarily difficult questions to answer, but I think there are better ways to provide Family First Response!
If you can bear with me for a little while, I want to put on my “Idealist” hat and present a perfect-world solution. Life is messy. People, let alone a whole society, are difficult to change, and simple solutions in a very complex world – well... Let me dream a bit! So, here is my ideal Family First Response model.
The most important “First-Responders” for families in crisis should be other family members and their immediate community! Certainly, there was a time when everybody’s business was everybody’s business! If a family member or neighbor was sick, had a need, or whatever, people in the community just took care of it. That was the status quo, the social mores. There was a much more pervasive community of caring. Obviously, this still happens, but it is far more the exception than the rule. Now, there is a societal expectation for somebody else to be the Family’s “First-Responder,” and not us.
How did we get to this place of disconnection and disengagement? Have we become so much more self-centered, self-sufficient, or prideful? Has rugged individualism and independence completely overshadowed interdependence and a sense of community responsibility? Have we become so busy and obsessed with success, accomplishment and self-aggrandizement that we have lost our ability to recognize the plight of others? Or, have we become so cold and callous as a culture that we just do not give a damn? What do you think?
However we got here, we need to change and reinvigorate “Community” thinking! Community can be your family, your neighborhood, your city, your church, your service club; it is wherever you connect with others in caring, compassionate relationships. It is the ability to deport oneself as a vital member of a support network, caring for one another, and not living as an island unto yourself. It is maintaining an embedded belief that a healthy society can only be achieved by people caring for each other, not depending on someone else to do it. It is a derivative of “everybody’s business is everybody’s business!”
My point here is this, we should be so in tune with the families within our “community,” that whenever we discern any problem, difficulty or challenge that could be harmful or disruptive to them, we are there as the First-Responders, mobilizing whatever it takes to preserve and strengthen that precious unit!
Of course, in order for family and community First-Response to be effective, there must be a willingness to intervene. It takes more than being aware and caring, it takes the courage to honestly confront a situation, and mobilize action. Over the years, I have heard too many stories about people that knew something was just not right or that significant problems existed with a family, but did nothing. A missed “First-Responder” opportunity that could have prevented a lot of heartache and trauma.
Conversely, people need to be willing to receive community intervention and support. This is a tough nut to crack. People’s pride, ego, privacy or fears can certainly be a huge wall of resistance. This is where we need a huge shift in social thinking. As we become more willing to help others in the role of “First-Responders”, we also must be willing to receive the benefit and help. If you are in a car wreck, had a house fire, were assaulted, it would be unheard of for you to turn down the services of First-Responders. Family First-Response should be equally valued and received.
Finally, there must be a “services and supports” infrastructure in place, preferably community-based and not governmental, in order to provide whatever is needed to strengthen and support that family! Family-intervention is tantamount to action. There must be community-based services readily available which are effective, nonthreatening, non-punitive culturally relevant and accessible 24/7. Plus, cost-of-services should never be an obstacle. There is without question, a humanitarian, moral responsibility for government to ensure every family has access to services and supports on par with fire, police and other services that are necessary for the wellbeing of the citizenry.
If we truly believe that “Family” is our most valuable, venerated and important social institution, then it is high time that we elevate Family-preservation to the highest priority of public funding. There needs to be exerted effort to inculture-ate “Family First-Response” into the fabric of social conduct, and make the services available which are necessary to preserve and strengthen Families.
Yes I am a dreamer, but to quote the late Peter Drucker, “The best way to predict our future is to create it!”