early childhood: frame
By Stephanie Summers
[The following is an excerpt from the book.]
During my senior year of college, three friends and I drove back-and-forth across Ohio during a fierce snowstorm. We had worked with our families and their home churches in Pennsylvania to fill our vehicles with as many items as we could carry to help our friend set up her new apartment off campus. When we stopped to fill our tanks and bellies at a truck stop, I thought about the previous eight months of preparation for the arrival of our friend’s baby. All these years later, it strikes me how much of our lives and our time were reoriented by one tiny human being.
In the Christian tradition, we rightly focus on upholding human life and human dignity. Every child is created in God’s image, and from the beginning, Scripture demonstrates God’s creational intent that every child be raised in a family, within the context of a society that supports parents in upholding their familial responsibilities.
At times where pregnancy and childbirth occur outside of marriage the response must be the assumption of extra-ordinary responsibilities by extended family members, supportive friends and neighbors, and social institutions including churches, non-profits, and government. And most especially in times when the child will be raised within a low-income family, the responsibilities taken up by others in a community should always aim to empower, strengthen, support, and nurture human life, marriage, and the family.
This assumption of extra-ordinary community responsibilities continues well beyond the birth of a child to low-income parents. Christians must continue to be people who attend to the early nurturing of children, not only the protection of nascent life. Governments, however, bear a unique role and an important set of corresponding responsibilities, as relates to early childhood for children of low-income parents. No government can nurture a child, but governments are called to uphold public justice. This means governments must work to support and nurture human life, marriage, and the family in its policy-making, and encourage, rather than hinder, the work of other institutions to do so as well.
Government must also affirm that families and children are diverse in nature and needs. This inherent diversity of families is part of why a just political community affirms and encourages the primary role and responsibility of parents in guiding the nurture of their children. No two families are alike, but in the case of low-income families, the support that is often needed in order to escape poverty is offered as a one-size-fits-all solution.
It is instead crucial for government to promote opportunity by supporting and empowering parents, their extended families and other social institutions. These can best meet the diverse needs of parents and their children in tailored ways that best address their complex needs. Indeed, government has an important role ensuring that opportunity is not diminished by, for example, racial discrimination or a family’s zip code. Public justice requires government acts, but it also requires it to do so in ways that support, rather than supplant, the rich network of social institutions in which human life is lived.
In acting to address the diverse needs of low-income families, public policies must consider the reality of family life when dependent on one person’s wages and the need for that parent to earn a meaningful academic credential. In concert with other institutions in society, parents can be equipped, empowered and financially supported to make decisions regarding their child’s nurture and care that best meets their unique and diverse needs.
These principles and policies affirm a vital role for government, one that empowers parents and recognizes the diversity of needs and solutions for nurturing children. Government must ask itself how it can further encourage and empower parents within the fullness of the rich tapestry of relationships within which young children are nurtured.